Vaccine Hesitant Parents

Every parent who skips or delays a vaccine isn’t so anti-vaccine that they believe every anti-vaccine myth and conspiracy theory on the Internet.

Some are simply scared or worried about what they have read or by what friends or family members have told them.

One study by Gust et al. has actually identified up to five categories of parents, including:

  • immunization advocates – the biggest group, who think that vaccines are necessary, safe, and important
  • go along to get alongs – think that vaccines are necessary and safe
  • health advocates – agree that vaccines are necessary, but aren’t so sure that they are safe
  • fence-sitters – slightly agree that vaccines are necessary and safe
  • worrieds – the smallest group, who slightly disagree that vaccines are necessary and strongly disagree that they are safe

The fence-sitters and worrieds, and some of the health advocates, are typically the ones who delay or skip one or more vaccines. They may even follow their own alternative parent-selected, delayed protection immunization schedules.

They are the vaccine-hesitant parents.

But what does it mean to be vaccine hesitant? Some people think of it as a kinder and gentler term, as opposed to someone who is anti-vaccine or a vaccine refuser.

The SAGE Vaccine Hesitancy Working Group says that:

Vaccine hesitancy refers to delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services. Vaccine hesitancy is complex and context specific varying across time, place and vaccines. It includes factors such as complacency, convenience and confidence.

If you are hesitant about something, you are “slow to act or speak especially because you are nervous or unsure about what to do.” In general, you need reassurance and advice to address your concerns about what ever you are nervous or hesitant about.

That’s especially true when you talk about vaccine hesitancy. When a parent is worried and wants to skip or delay the MMR vaccine because they have been told it is going to make their child autistic or have read about toxins in vaccines, those are easy concerns for their pediatrician to address and refute.

That’s why many vaccine hesitant parents eventually get their kids caught up on all of their vaccines.

When a parent doesn’t want to believe the overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and necessary, then you are moving beyond vaccine hesitancy to someone who is truly anti-vaccine.

That’s not the vaccine hesitant parent though.

One study, “Validity and reliability of a survey to identify vaccine-hesitant parents,” described vaccine hesitant parents as a “heterogeneous group of parents who may purposefully delay or choose select vaccines, have moderate concerns about vaccine safety, and yet still want to trust and receive immunization information from their child’s provider.”

More importantly, the study also said that of vaccine hesitant parents,  “their child’s provider remains in a position of influence, their immunization attitudes are not extreme, and they are a larger group than those who completely reject vaccines.”

That makes it important to truly make dismissing families who don’t vaccinate from pediatric practices a very last resort that is saved for the “entrenched nonvaccinators” and antivaccination activists who are never going to change their minds.

After all, you can’t talk to your pediatrician about vaccines if you are no longer going to a pediatrician who advocates that vaccines are safe and necessary.

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