Tag: talking about vaccines

Anti-Vaccine Censorship on Facebook

If you ever wander into a holistic parenting group or a vaccine group that claims to offer “both sides” to educate folks about vaccines, you will, or at least you should, quickly notice that all of the posts and replies sound eerily alike.

This toddler might end up with tetanus because of bad information in this anti-vaccine group.
This toddler might end up with tetanus because of bad advice in this anti-vaccine group.

If a parent asks about a tetanus shot for their child’s wound in one of these groups, no one will suggest that they rush to their pediatrician and get it.

The only disagreements you might see are whether they should treat the wound with colloidal silver, black salve, garlic, urine, activated charcoal, tea tree oil, raw honey, essential oils, or some other non-evidence based therapy.

Anti-Vaccine Censorship

It is no accident that folks get uniform advice against vaccines in these so-called vaccine “education” groups.

The comment that got me banned from posting on Phyicians for Informed Consent.
As often happens on anti-vaccine sites, my comment about tetanus shots was quickly deleted and I was banned from posting further messages.

Anyone who goes against the “vaccines are dangerous” mantra of these groups typically has their comments quickly deleted and gets banned from the group.

Why?

“Echo chambers abound for many other conditions which are not medically recognised, from chronic Lyme disease to electromagnetic hypersensitivity. But perhaps most worrisome is the advance of anti-vaccine narratives across the web. The explosion of dubious sources has allowed them to propagate wildly, undeterred by debunking in the popular press. We might take the current drastic fall in HPV vaccine uptake in Ireland, driven by anti-vaccine groups like REGRET, despite its life-saving efficacy. While organisations including the Health Service Executive have valiantly tried to counter these myths, these claims are perpetuated across social media with little to stop them.”

Echo chambers are dangerous – we must try to break free of our online bubbles

To create an echo chamber of anti-vaccine myths and propaganda and help reinforce all of their anti-vaccine beliefs. And of course, to help scare parents who might be on the fence about vaccines.

After all, it is easier to feel confident in your decisions when you think that everyone else is doing the same thing. Of course they aren’t though. The great majority of people vaccinate and protect their kids.

It is only in these echo chambers of anti-vaccine misinformation that anyone would think that it would be okay to not get an unvaccinated toddler proper treatment for a cut, to skip a rabies shot after exposure to a rabid bat, or to not get travel vaccines before visiting high risk areas of the world.

That’s the power of confirmation bias.

And whether or not you realize it, confirmation bias is likely one of the reasons that you aren’t vaccinating and protecting your kids.

That’s why you need to step out of these echo chambers if you want to understand that vaccines are safe and necessary.

What to Know About Anti-Vaccine Censorhip

Anti-vaccine groups routinely censor, ban, and block messages from people who correct misinformation about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases.

More on Anti-Vaccine Censorship

8 Myths About Pediatricians Who Fire Families Who Don’t Vaccinate Their Kids

What actually happens when a pediatrician has a vaccine policy that requires parents to vaccinate their kids or face dismissal from the practice?

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of myths about the controversial issue of pediatricians dismissing families who don’t vaccinate their kids.

1 ) It is a myth that the American Academy of Pediatrics has a policy encouraging pediatricians to dismiss families who don’t vaccinate their kids.

There is no such policy.

Instead, in 2016, about 400 leaders from AAP chapters, committees, councils, and sections voted on a resolution at the 2016 AAP Annual Leadership Forum (ALF) to support pediatricians who dismissed families who didn’t vaccinate their kids.

RESOLVED, that the Academy support, in their policy statements and clinical guidelines about immunizations, pediatricians who decide to discharge patients after a reasonable, finite amount of time working with parents who refuse to immunize their children according to the recommended schedule or who fail to abide by an agreed-upon, recommended catch-up schedule, and be it further RESOLVED, that the Academy continue to support pediatricians who continue to provide health care to children of parents who refuse to immunize their children.

Resolution #80.81SB Supporting Pediatricians Who Discharge Families Who Refuse to Immunize

The resolution also voiced support for pediatricians who didn’t dismiss these patients.

2)  It is a myth that pediatricians dismissing families who don’t vaccinate their kids is a new thing.

Although it is getting a lot more attention now, since that 2016 resolution and a report on Countering Vaccine Hesitancy that soon followed, dismissing or firing families who don’t vaccinate their kids is not new.

A 2005 AAP report, Responding to Parental Refusals of Immunization of Children, discusses the issue.

“In general, pediatricians should avoid discharging patients from their practices solely because a parent refuses to immunize his or her child. However, when a substantial level of distrust develops, significant differences in the philosophy of care emerge, or poor quality of communication persists, the pediatrician may encourage the family to find another physician or practice.”

Responding to Parental Refusals of Immunization of Children

And a study, Dismissing the Family Who Refuses Vaccines, also published in 2005, made it clear that many pediatricians “would discontinue care for families refusing some or all vaccines.”

3)  It is a myth that dismissing families who don’t vaccinate their kids is an evidence based policy.

There is nothing beyond anecdotal evidence that families, when faced with the decision of getting vaccinated or getting dismissed from an office, will choose to get vaccinated.

Again, the latest resolution supporting the idea of dismissing families came because it was voted on and became an official Annual Leadership Forum resolution. In general, only the top 10 ALF resolutions are acted upon urgently by the AAP.

At the time, many pediatricians felt constrained by the previous statements from the AAP that discouraged dismissing these families.

4)  It is a myth that pediatricians dismiss families who don’t vaccinate their kids because they don’t want to be bothered talking about vaccine safety.

Although few pediatricians would want to talk to a parent who is arguing that vaccines are poison, aren’t necessary, and never work, fortunately, most vaccine-hesitant parents don’t actually talk like that. They are usually on the fence or simply scared because of all of the anti-vaccine propaganda they are exposed to and need a little extra time to understand that vaccines are safe and necessary.

A typical vaccine policy gives a parent plenty of time to get their child caught up on vaccines before they might be dismissed from the office.
A typical vaccine policy gives a parent plenty of time to get their child caught up on vaccines before they might be dismissed from the office.

And most pediatricians give them that extra time and do talk to them about their concerns. Despite the perception from some of the headlines you might see, families typically don’t get fired after one visit because they refused one or more vaccines.

5) Pediatricians who don’t dismiss unvaccinated families are supporting the use of alternative vaccine schedules.

While this is certainly true for some providers who actually advertise that they are “vaccine-friendly” and encourage parents to follow a non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedule, most others understand that there is no evidence to support these alternative schedules and they are simply tolerated until the child can get caught-up with all of his vaccines.

6) It is illegal to dismiss a family who doesn’t want to vaccinate their kids.

While some pediatricians think that it is a bit of an ethical dilemma, the legal issues are very clear.

Physicians can’t simply abandon a patient so that they go without care, but they are typically free to end the physician-patient relationship after giving them formal, written notification, and continuing to provide care (at least in emergency situations) for a reasonable amount of time, giving the family time to find a new physician.

Of course, state and federal civil rights laws protect families from being terminated because of sex, color, creed, race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, national origin, or sexual orientation.

7)  It is a myth that dismissing families who don’t vaccinate their kids will protect those families who do vaccinate and protect their kids.

This is often the main reason that pediatricians use to justify dismissing families who don’t vaccinate their kids. After all, it isn’t fair to the families who come to your office, those who do get vaccinated and protected, if someone who is intentionally not vaccinated gets measles and exposes them all, right?

There seem to be several problems with this idea though:

  • relatively few exposures during outbreaks actually occur in a pediatrician’s office. Looking at most recent measles outbreaks, for example, exposures were more likely to occur while traveling out of the country, in an urgent care center, emergency room, somewhere in the community, or in their own home.
  • infants who get pertussis are usually exposed by a family member
  • while measles is very contagious and the virus can linger in an exam room for hours, other vaccine-preventable diseases are far less contagious. Mumps, for example, typically requires prolonged, close contact, which is why you are unlikely to get mumps at your pediatrician’s office.
  • when dismissed by their pediatrician, there is a concern that families might cluster together in the offices of a vaccine-friendly doctor or holistic pediatrician, making it more likely for outbreaks to erupt in their community if any of them get sick

And that’s the key point. Just because families get dismissed from a pediatrician’s office, it doesn’t mean that they leave the community. Your patients might still see them at daycare, school, at the grocery store, or walking down their street.

Pediatricians who don’t dismiss families who don’t vaccinate their kids often feel that it is better to keep working to help them understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, so that they eventually do get vaccinated and protected.

What about the extra risk in their own offices?

With RSV, strep, cold viruses, and everything else that kids have in the average pediatrician’s office, it is best to take steps to reduce the chances that kids are exposed to all of them. How do you do that? Don’t have a waiting room full of kids that are exposing each other to germs!

8) Most families don’t vaccinate their kids because they don’t trust their pediatrician.

While this is likely true for some, those families who want to see a pediatrician and don’t refuse any other treatments, like their newborn’s vitamin K shot and eye ointment, likely do trust their pediatrician.

Then why don’t they vaccinate and protect their kids?

“In today’s world, smallpox has been eradicated due to a successful vaccination program and vaccines have effectively controlled many other significant causes of morbidity and mortality. Consequently, fear has shifted from many vaccine-preventable diseases to fear of the vaccines.”

Marian Siddiqui et al on the Epidemiology of vaccine hesitancy in the United States

They are likely afraid.

What are they afraid of?

More and more these day, if you ask them, they will likely tell you that they don’t know. It would be much easier if they were afraid of something specific, like the myth that a baby’s immune system is too immature to handle any vaccines, that there are hidden ingredients in vaccines, or that vaccines are somehow associated with autism.

You can answer specific questions about vaccines, but it is harder when they are afraid because they see anecdotal vaccine scare videos or because friends and family members are feeding them misinformation.

“With all the challenges acknowledged, the single most important factor in getting parents to accept vaccines remains the one-on-one contact with an informed, caring, and concerned pediatrician.”

“…nearly half of parents who were initially vaccine hesitant ultimately accepted vaccines after practitioners provided a rationale for vaccine administration.”

“Developing a trusting relationship with parents is key to influencing parental decision-making around vaccines.”

“Pediatricians should keep in mind that many, if not most, vaccine-hesitant parents are not opposed to vaccinating their children; rather, they are seeking guidance about the issues involved, beginning with the complexity of the schedule and the number of vaccines proposed.”

“Because most parents agree to vaccinate their children, this dialogue, which can be started as early as the prenatal interview visit if possible, should be an ongoing process.”

AAP on Countering Vaccine Hesitancy

Whatever their vaccine policy, pediatricians should all work to counter vaccine misinformation and propaganda, so that our families get vaccinated and protected and our communities are safe.

It is also clear that we need new ways to talk about vaccines.

And we definitely new more ways to help everyone learn to think critically, be more skeptical about the things they see and read, and overcome their biases.

What to Know About Pediatricians Who Discharge Families Who Refuse to Immunize Their Kids

Whether they have a vaccine policy that dismisses families who don’t vaccinate their kids or they continue seeing them, pediatricians want to do what is best for their kids.

More on Pediatricians Who Discharge Families Who Refuse to Immunize Their Kids

Recommendations for Reporting About Vaccines

Historically, the media has played a huge role in pushing vaccine misinformation and scaring parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

“The media created the MMR hoax, and they maintained it diligently for 10 years.”

Dr. Ben Goldacre Bad Science

Even before Andy Wakefield and his MMR hoax, the media helped fuel pertussis outbreaks by pushing the flawed research of John Wilson, which led to lawsuits against DPT vaccines and a big drop in vaccination rates.

None of it was true and the lawsuits failed, but the consequence was still that many unvaccinated kids died.

Bob Sears appeared on Fox & Friends in 2010 for the segment "Vaccines: A Bad Combination?"
Bob Sears appearing on Fox & Friends in 2010 for the segment “Vaccines: A Bad Combination?” is a great example of false balance.

Many others in the media have done a great job in promoting myths and fake controversies about vaccines and have used false balance in their interviews and articles to scare parents.

Fortunately, things have gotten better over the years.

Important Points for Reporting About Vaccines

Still, despite what some folks might think, health journalists aren’t going to get in trouble for reporting about vaccines.

They are going to hear about it if they do a bad job though.

“…it is important to recognise that the balance of media reporting does not necessarily reflect the balance of the argument among the involved professionals – by this is meant that equal weighting might be given by the media (and thus the lay community) to those for and against the vaccine although opponents of vaccination might be a very small number, as for example happened with both pertussis and MMR.”

David Baxter on Opposition to Vaccination and Immunisation the UK Experience – from Smallpox to MMR

Remember, the way that health journalists cover vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases can influence the behavior of people, either helping them understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, putting them on-the-fence about vaccines, or scarring them away from getting vaccinated and protected.

So be careful when reporting about vaccines, as it gives you the opportunity to correct many of myths that scare people, while educating folks about the topic you are covering.

You should also:

Are you ready to cover your next story about vaccines or the next measles outbreak?

What to Know About Reporting on Vaccines

The way that health journalists cover vaccines and vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks can influence the behavior of people, either helping them understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, putting them on-the-fence about vaccines, or scarring them away from getting vaccinated and protected.

More on Reporting about Vaccines

Immunization Education Agreement

Having disagreements about getting kids vaccinated and protected are not rare these days.

“Many parents have questions about their children’s vaccines, and answering their questions can help parents feel confident in choosing to immunize their child according to the CDC’s recommended immunization schedule.”

CDC on Talking to Parents about Vaccines

They never were though.

The anti-vaccine movement, concerns about the pain from the shots, and worry about side effects have been around for as long as there have been vaccines.

Options When You Disagree About Vaccines

So what should you do if you disagree with someone about vaccines and you don’t want to get your child vaccinated?

It depends on who it is.

For example, if the person you disagree with is your pediatrician, then simply arguing about it likely isn’t a good idea, on either side.

Most pediatricians understand that many vaccine-hesitant parents are simply scared because of things they read and see on the Internet and they want to help you get educated, see through the myths and misinformation that are out there, and eventually get caught up and vaccinated.

They understand that terminating the physician-patient relationship over vaccines truly is a last resort for “when a substantial level of distrust develops, significant differences in the philosophy of care emerge, or poor quality of communication persists.”

Immunization Education Agreement

So what can you do besides arguing?

Will you agree to get educated about vaccines?
Will you agree to get educated about vaccines using recommended and reliable sources of information?

Pediatricians and other health care providers can agree to get better educated about all of the different ways to talk to vaccine-hesitant parents.

And vaccine-hesitant parents can agree to get educated about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases using books and websites that are recommended by their provider.

Reassure your pediatrician that you are not done talking about vaccines and agree to get educated about vaccines:

Immunization Education Agreement Form

Even if you think that you have already done enough research, do just a little more. And then talk to you pediatrician again. And again if you have to.

Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are necessary. Don’t let anyone scare you into thinking that they aren’t.

What to Know About the Immunization Agreement

Whether you find yourself on opposite sides about immunizations with a friend, your spouse, an ex, or your pediatrician, agree to get educated about vaccines using these recommended and reliable sources of information and then talk about it some more.

More on the Immunization Education Agreement

Immunization Workshops and Conferences

Can’t make it to an immunization workshop or conference?

You could have learned about the Immunity Community and much more if you had attended the 47th National Immunization Conference.
You could have learned about the Immunity Community and much more if you had attended the 47th National Immunization Conference.

They are a great way to get educated about vaccines.

Immunization Workshops and Conferences

In addition to seeing future immunization workshops and conferences that you might be interested in attending, here are many archived workshop videos, presentations, slides, and posters that you can watch and read online:

Have you been to an immunization conference this year?

What to Know About Immunization Workshops and Conferences

Immunization conferences are a great way to learn about childhood and adolescent immunizations, vaccine preventable diseases, implementing appropriate immunization communication strategies, and addressing vaccine hesitancy.

More on Immunization Workshops and Conferences

We Don’t Know How To Talk About Vaccines

There is a dirty little secret about vaccines that people don’t seem to like to talk about.

No, it’s not about toxins or autism.

“Our systematic review did not reveal any convincing evidence on effective interventions to address parental vaccine hesitancy and refusal. We found a large number of studies that evaluated interventions for increasing immunization coverage rates such as the use of reminder/recall systems, parent, community-wide, and provider-based education and incentives as well as the effect of government and school immunization policies.

However, very few intervention studies measured outcomes linked to vaccine refusal such as vaccination rates in refusing parents, intent to vaccinate, or change in attitudes toward vaccines.

Most of the studies included in the analysis were observational studies that were either under-powered or provided indirect evidence.”

Sadaf et al on A systematic review of interventions for reducing parental vaccine refusal and vaccine hesitancy

It’s that we don’t really know how to talk about vaccines to vaccine hesitant parents, at least not in a way that we know will consistently get them to vaccinate and protect their kids.

Understanding Studies About Vaccine Hesitancy

Sure, a lot of studies have been done about talking to vaccine hesitant parents.

We have all seen the headlines:

  • Study: You Can’t Change an Anti-Vaxxer’s Mind
  • Pro-vaccine messages can boost belief in MMR myths, study shows
  • UWA study shows attacking alternative medicines is not the answer to get parents to vaccinate kids
  • Training Doctors To Talk About Vaccines Fails To Sway Parents

Does that mean that you shouldn’t try to talk to vaccine hesitant parents?

Of course not.

“How providers initiate and pursue vaccine recommendations is associated with parental vaccine acceptance.”

Opel et al on The Architecture of Provider-Parent Vaccine Discussions at Health Supervision Visits

Just understand that these headlines are usually about small studies, which if they were about treating a child with asthma or strep throat,  likely wouldn’t change how you do things.

Why do anti-vaccine websites still post misinformation about fake recommendations to stop breastfeeding?
Why do people continue to believe misinformation about fake recommendations to stop breastfeeding?

In one study that concluded that “physician-targeted communication intervention did not reduce maternal vaccine hesitancy or improve physician self-efficacy,” the physicians got a total of 45 minutes of training!

So they shouldn’t have so much influence about how you might talk to parents about vaccines that you throw up your hands at the thought of talking to a vaccine hesitant parent and won’t even think about learning how to use the CASE method, why presumptive language might work, or about vaccination-focused motivational interviewing techniques.

The bottom line is that no matter what the headlines say, we just haven’t found the best way to talk to vaccine-hesitant parents and help them overcome their cognitive biases. And until more studies are done, none of the existing studies about anti-vaccine myth-busting should likely overly influence how you do things.

“Physicians should aim for both parental satisfaction and a positive decision to vaccinate. Researchers must continue to develop conceptually clear, evidence-informed, and practically implementable approaches to parental vaccine hesitancy, and agencies need to commit to supporting the evidence base. Billions of dollars fund the research and development of vaccines to ensure their efficacy and safety. There needs to be a proportional commitment to the “R&D” of vaccine acceptance because vaccines are only effective if people willingly take them up.”

Leask et al on Physician Communication With Vaccine-Hesitant Parents: The Start, Not the End, of the Story

If you spend any time talking to vaccine hesitant parents, especially those who are on the fence, you quickly learn that many are eager to get good information about vaccines and all want to do what is best for their kids.

It’s just hard for many of them to do what is best when their decisions are getting influenced by vaccine scare videos and many of the 100s of myths about vaccines that are out there.

“…while the drivers of vaccine hesitancy are well documented, effective intervention strategies for addressing the issue are sorely lacking. Here, we argue that this may be because existing strategies have been guided more by intuition than by insights from psychology and by the erroneous assumption that humans act rationally.”

Rossen et al on Going with the Grain of Cognition: Applying Insights from Psychology to Build Support for Childhood Vaccination

So while we need more studies on the best ways to talk to vaccine hesitant parents, don’t dismiss all of the ways that might be effective, such as:

It is also important to become familiar with the myths and anti-vaccine talking points that may be scaring your patients away from getting vaccinated on time.

Why is this important?

If a parent is concerned about glyphosate, you might not sound too convincing telling them not to worry if you don’t even know what glyphosate is.

What to Know About Vaccine Hesitancy Studies

While we learn better ways to talk about vaccines, so that vaccine-hesitant parents can more easily understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, don’t dismiss current strategies because of small studies and attention grabbing headlines.

More on Vaccine Hesitancy Studies

 

How Pediatricians Should Talk to Vaccine Hesitant Parents

Vaccine hesitant parents sometimes don’t get time to talk with a pediatrician about vaccines.

They might not even get an appointment with their new baby if they express doubts about wanting to vaccinate their kids or about wanting to skip or delay some vaccines.

That’s unfortunate, as I think many would choose to vaccinate and protect their kids if they got answers to the anti-vaccine talking points that scare them.

Myth busting by itself doesn’t always seem to work though.

How Pediatricians Should Talk to Vaccine Hesitant Parents

It is understandable that pediatricians get frustrated talking to some anti-vaccine parents.

Pediarix, Hib, Prevnar, and Rota vaccines have been prepared for an infant at her well child visit.
Pediarix, Hib, Prevnar, and Rota vaccines for my daughter at her 2 month well visit 10 years ago. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

One strategy that might work includes asking open ended questions about why the parent is hesitant to vaccinate their kids. Next, while responding to a few of their biggest concerns, be sure to affirm what the parent is saying and use reflective listening.

How might these vaccination-focused motivational interviewing techniques work during a typical visit at a pediatrician’s office? Instead of getting frustrated and accepting a copy of Dr. Bob’s alternative schedule, you might ask them:

  • What specifically are you afraid of?
  • You are really worried that your child might get sick after their vaccines.
  • It sounds like you think kids get too many shots.

Now, address a few of those concerns.

Pediatricians often feel like they don’t have enough time to have long discussions about vaccines, when they also need to talk about many other important topics at each visit, including nutrition, development, and safety, etc. The vaccine talk doesn’t have to be extensive though. Just get it started and come back to it again at the next visit.

You can also recommend some good vaccine books and websites to help parents do more research.

Talking About Vaccines

It is not enough to simply tell your vaccine hesitant parents to read a book, visit a website, or offer them some handouts though. It is important that pediatricians also talk to parents about vaccines.

Study after study show that pediatricians are the most influential, most convincing, and most used source of information about vaccines for many parents.

“How providers initiate and pursue vaccine recommendations is associated with parental vaccine acceptance.”

Opel et al on The Architecture of Provider-Parent Vaccine Discussions at Health Supervision Visits

Just remember, when you have these talks, to:

  • Use vaccination-focused motivational interviewing techniques for vaccine-hesitant parents.
  • Avoid using scientific and medical jargon.
  • Help parents who may have a skewed perception of the risks of vaccines vs risks of vaccine preventable diseases, by emphasizing that vaccines are very safe.
  • Avoid simply minimizing or dismissing a parent’s concerns about vaccines without providing a fact based explanation for why they shouldn’t be worried.
  • Highlight the benefits of vaccines, including all of the social benefits.
  • Avoid a “data dump,” in which you might overwhelm a vaccine hesitant parent with too much information all at once and in what they might see as a lecture about accepting vaccines.
  • Always use presumptive language and high-quality recommendations when you talk about vaccines.
  • Include stories and anecdotes about kids who have gotten sick and parents who regret not vaccinating their kids.
  • Become familiar with the anti-vaccine talking points that may be scaring your patients away from getting vaccinated on time. Why is this important? If they are concerned about glyphosate, you might not sound too convincing telling them not to worry if you don’t even know what glyphosate is.
  • Try the CASE Method for talking about vaccine concerns.

Are your kids fully vaccinated? Talk about that too.

There is much more to all of this than simply letting parents follow non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedules and arguing with them about getting caught up.

What to Know About Talking to Vaccine Hesitant Parents

Learning new ways to talk to vaccine hesitant parents, including the use of vaccination-focused motivational interviewing techniques, presumptive language, and high-quality recommendations, might help pediatricians have more success and get less frustrated.

More About Talking to Vaccine Hesitant Parents