April 21-28 is National Infant Immunization Week
Parents consider health care professionals one of the most trusted sources in 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 82% of parents cited their child’s health care professional as one of their top 3 trusted sources of vaccine information.
“Nurses can begin talking to parents about childhood immunizations during prenatal care when asking parents about plans for their newborn’s pediatric care,” said Catherine Ruhl, MS, CNM, director of women’s health programs for AWHONN. “Messages can be reinforced during a woman’s postpartum stay when confirming plans for the baby’s follow-up care.” 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.
“A nurse’s expertise, knowledge, and advice are vital in creating a safe and trusted environment for discussing childhood immunizations,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, CDC’s director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “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 71% of parents were confident or very confident in the safety of routine childhood immunizations, although parents’ most common question is what side effects they should look for after vaccination. Twenty-five percent are concerned that children get too many vaccines in one doctor’s visit, and 16% of survey participants are concerned that vaccines may cause autism.
“Reinforcing vaccine safety messages 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 help 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—how they work and the diseases they prevent—while others 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. 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, such as informing schools and child care facilities that their child is not immunized, and being careful to stay aware of any disease outbreaks that occur 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, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics 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.