We all know how challenging and time-consuming it can be to convince vaccine-hesitant patients that vaccinations are what is best for them and their children. Patients are bombarded with misinformation through the news and social media that seeds or “confirms” their doubts about vaccines. And for our part, we have only a few minutes during an office visit to refute all of the false claims that are a mere click or scroll away.
To better prepare for this challenge, this article details a practical approach to discussing vaccines with your patients. Using the patient-friendly language and evidence described here, you will be well positioned to refute 13 common vaccine misconceptions and overcome the barriers that stand in the way of these lifesaving interventions.
A few important baseline concepts
In discussing vaccination with our patients, it is important to keep the following in mind:
Patients don’t refuse vaccinations just to make our lives difficult. They truly are trying to make the best decisions they can for themselves and their families. Recognizing this can significantly reduce frustration levels.
Time well spent. While educating patients about the value of vaccines takes time, the return is worth it. The more consistently we offer vaccines, along with the reasons they are important, the more likely patients are to give vaccines a second thought. In fact, studies show that provider recommendation is the most important factor in patients’ decisions to vaccinate.1
Approach matters. In all other aspects of medicine, we attempt to use a participatory approach, involving our patients in decisions regarding their health care. When discussing vaccines, however, a participatory approach (eg, “What do you want to do about vaccines today?”) can introduce doubt into patients’ minds. Studies show that a presumptive approach (eg, “Today we are going to provide the tetanus, human papillomavirus [HPV], and meningitis vaccines”) is a much more effective way to get patients to vaccinate.2
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