Vaccines: How to talk so parents will listen

With the recent measles outbreak in Southwest Washington, conversations about vaccines are on the rise again.

A Kaiser Permanente study of parents in Northshore and Bellingham found that positive messages from peers may help. “Most people choose to vaccinate themselves and their children against contagious diseases,” says Clarissa Hsu, PhD, assistant investigator at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute and the study’s principal investigator. “But not everyone may realize that, because negative messages about vaccines circulate so widely in the media. It can be really powerful for parents to learn how very many other families are choosing vaccination.”

Prevention is a pillar of Kaiser Permanente’s mission to improve health, and Kaiser Permanente Washington is helping lead the way toward full vaccination. The Washington State Department of Health recognized 4 of our medical centers as Gold Level providers in the 2018 Immunize Washington project. Below are some facts and tips you can use when talking about the importance of vaccines with friends and family.

The facts about vaccines

“When parents have productive conversations about vaccines, it resembles the way that we doctors talk with our ‘vaccine-hesitant’ patients,” says John Dunn, MD, MPH, a Kaiser Permanente Washington pediatrician who is also assistant medical director of preventive care. Some of the points Dr. Dunn shares with patients include:

  • The benefits of vaccination are much greater than any harm.
  • The risks from contagious diseases far outweigh those from vaccines.
  • Vaccines work best when a high proportion of people in a community are immunized against a contagious disease.
  • This “community immunity” helps to protect everyone — including those who can’t receive vaccines, such as people with severe immune system problems.

Increasing vaccination rates with positivity

The results of the study suggest that positive, nonjudgmental methods of persuasion can change behavior:

  • The number of parents who described themselves as “vaccine hesitant” fell from 1 in 4 to about 1 in 7.
  • The number of parents who said they were concerned about other people not vaccinating their kids rose from around 8 out of 10 to around 9 out of 10.
  • More parents knew the vaccination rates at their children’s childcare or school.
  • Fewer parents thought children receive vaccines at too young an age.
  • More parents were confident that vaccinating their children was a good decision.

5 positive approaches you can use in conversations about vaccines

Keep the following guidelines in mind when discussing vaccines with vaccine-hesitant friends and family:

  1.  Stay positive: Don’t let discussions about vaccines turn into an argument.
  2.  Find common ground: Acknowledge that all parents want to protect their children and make good decisions.
  3.  Be nonjudgmental: Don’t criticize, judge, shame, or confront. It can backfire and make people hold tighter to their positions.
  4.  Use “I” language: “Here’s why my family and I choose vaccination.”
  5.  Politely disengage from negative situations: If another parent becomes angry, thank them and say goodbye for now.

Join the Immunity Community

Become a member of the Immunity Community for information and resources that will help you amplify your voice and make a positive impact on children’s health.

Want more local health news, wellness tips, recipes, and more? Subscribe to the Kaiser Permanente Washington newsletter.