National Immunization Awareness Month is a reminder that children need vaccines right from the start.
Parents consider health care professionals one of the most trusted sources for answering questions and addressing concerns about their child’s health. A recent survey on parents’ attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors regarding vaccines for young children – including vaccine safety and trust – found that 8 out of 10 parents consider pediatric health care professionals to be one of their most trusted sources of vaccine information. With so many parents relying on the advice of health care professionals about vaccines, a nurse’s recommendation plays a key role in guiding parents’ vaccination decisions.
“Because nurses are often the ones administering vaccines, it makes their expertise, knowledge, and advice vital in creating a safe and trusted environment for discussing childhood immunizations,” said [insert name of local official]. “How you communicate with parents during routine pediatric visits is critical for fostering parental confidence in the decision to vaccinate their children.”
The survey also found that 7 out of 10 parents were confident or very confident in the safety of routine childhood immunizations; however, parents had questions about vaccines. Parents’ most common question is what side effects they should look for after vaccination. One out of four is concerned that children get too many vaccines in one doctor’s visit and one out of five parents surveyed are concerned that vaccines may cause autism.
“Reinforcing that vaccines are safe and effective can go a long way towards assuring parents that they are doing the best thing for their children,” says Patsy Stinchfield, a pediatric nurse practitioner who represents the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners. “One of the best ways you can establish trust with parents is by asking open-ended questions to identify and address concerns they may have about vaccines. Also, restate their questions and acknowledge concerns with empathy.”
Make sure to address questions or concerns by tailoring responses to the level of detail the parent is looking for. Some parents may be prepared for a fairly high level of detail about vaccines including how they work and what diseases they prevent. Other parents may be overwhelmed by too much science and may respond better to a personal example of a patient you’ve seen with a vaccine-preventable disease. A strong recommendation from you as a nurse can also make parents feel comfortable with their decision to vaccinate.
For all parents, it’s important to address the risks of the diseases that vaccines prevent. It’s also imperative to acknowledge the risks associated with vaccines and highlight the benefits of vaccines. Parents are seeking balanced information. Never state that vaccines are risk-free, and always discuss the known side effects caused by vaccines.
If a parent chooses not to vaccinate, keep the lines of communication open and revisit their decision at a future visit. Make sure parents are aware of the risks and responsibilities they need to take on. These include informing schools and child care facilities that their child is unimmunized and staying aware of any disease outbreaks in their communities. If you build a trusting relationship over time with parents, they may reconsider their vaccination decision.
To help communicate about vaccine-preventable diseases, vaccines, and vaccine safety, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have partnered to develop Provider Resources for Vaccine Conversations with Parents. These materials include vaccine safety information, fact sheets on vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases, and strategies for successful vaccine conversations with parents. They are free and available online at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/conversations.