Nurse giving child a vaccination shot on right arm.

Vaccines are not cures, but they can make an amazing difference. Some resources claim that vaccines have prevented more suffering, disabilities, and death than any other intervention. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees and common misconceptions prevail. As nurses, we can promote vaccine use without using a soap box.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Parents consider their child's healthcare professionals to be their most trusted source of information when it comes to vaccines." According to Gallup, nurses ranked highest in honesty and ethics for the 18th consecutive year. By following the CDC's recommended talking points, we can use our influence to support parents and our pediatric patients.

CDC Recommended Talking Points

Assume All Parents Will Vaccinate

Introduce the topic of vaccinations

by presuming that parents will be accepting of your vaccination recommendations.

Use phrases such as:

  • "Your child needs DTaP today"
  • "Johnny needs three shots today."

This approach allows parents to become more comfortable with the idea of vaccines, particularly for first-time visitors. If parents do express concerns, move on to the next step.

Give Your Strong Recommendation

Because your recommendation is valuable to parents, it's appropriate to share how vaccines will protect their child from potentially life-threatening diseases. The CDC recommends phrasing such as:

  • "I strongly recommend your child get these vaccines today . . ."
  • "These shots are very important to protect her from serious diseases."
  • "Our office has given thousands of doses of vaccines, and we have never seen a serious reaction."

Listening and Responding to Questions

Sometimes, parents will have questions. Use this time to provide quality information instead of inciting a toxic reaction. Listening to understand and responding with compassionate knowledge will show parents how much you care.

Listening

Identify Safety Concerns

Sometimes parents need help identifying their concerns. As you listen, use leading questions to pinpoint potential safety issues. Ask, "Do you have specific safety concerns about vaccinations?"

Common safety concerns refer to side effects, the chances of their child getting the disease, and whether multiple vaccinations at once will cause harm.

Feeling Heard

Successful listening occurs when the person speaking feels heard. This means rephrasing, asking for clarification, and avoiding interruptions.

Allow the person to finish speaking, then repeat what they said back to them to ensure full understanding. It is okay to ask your own questions to be sure that you're addressing their concerns.

Identify Sources of Their Beliefs or Misconceptions

 You may need to ask how a parent arrived at a specific belief. Asking "Where did you hear this information?" or "How did you come to believe this?" allows parents to discern the sources of their misconceptions for themselves.

Nurse speaking with mother holding infant

Responding

Stick to The Facts But Avoid Statistics

Be ready to provide timely vaccination data, but keep in mind that facts do not always convince and statistics could alienate. Simple facts such as "There is no proven danger in getting all of the vaccines recommended today" is best.

It's okay to communicate that serious diseases exist and certain outbreaks still occur in the US today, such as measles or whooping cough.

Go Beyond the Facts to Personal Stories If Possible

Personal accounts of vaccination success from yourself, peers, or patients are known to go a long way in comforting vaccination concerns. People like to learn about others' experiences during similar circumstances. Say, "I believe so strongly in vaccines, I've vaccinated my own children on schedule."

Concerns That Are Nonspecific and Argumentative

There will be times when parents are argumentative or unable to express specific concerns. Instead of arguing back, give parents an opportunity to pinpoint their objections by asking "What are your specific concerns regarding vaccinating your child?"

Offer Quality Resources and References

Parents want what's best for their children, so it's safe to assume that they're seeking the most reliable information. Provide parents with credible answers through CDC or World Health Organization (WHO) handouts, which are derived from evidence-based research. Equip concerned parents with printed and online resources to reference when further questions arise.

Let Parents Make the Final Decision

Give parents control by letting them make the final decision regarding vaccinations. Ultimately, it's not your place to pester or shame parents for their choices. Finally, remain open and continue the vaccination discussion at every visit - regardless of the final decision.

Responses to Avoid

  • Avoid responding directly to common arguments such as links to autism or other diseases. Instead, provide CDC-approved handouts and information that address these frequent concerns.
  • Avoid presenting statistics because they don't convince - they only browbeat.
  • Avoid discussing vaccinations as a violation of individual rights.

People respect nurses' opinions. A healthy balance of caring and competence is key. When we understand resistance and deliver knowledge in a compassionate manner, we have a greater chance of our message being received: prevention is better than cure.

Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN
Latest posts by Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN (see all)
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