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Discussing immunization with vaccine-hesitant parents requires caring, individualized approach



Cognitive ease

Cognitive ease means creating an environment in which the patient is relaxed, comfortable, and more likely to be agreeable. Recognize when the tone shifts, and strive to maintain this calm and comfortable environment throughout the discussion. “If your blood pressure is coming up, that means theirs is, too,” Dr. Hempstead said.

Natural assumption

How you are offering the vaccination also matters, he added. Rather than asking whether a patient wants to vaccinate (“Have you thought about your flu vaccine this year?”), instead frame the discussion with vaccination as the default option (“Is your child due for a flu vaccination this year? Yes, he is. Let’s get that taken care of today”). Equating inaction with vaccination prevents the risk fallacy phenomenon from occurring in which, when given multiple options, people give equal weight to each option and may choose not to vaccinate, Dr. Hempstead noted.

Dr. Saba cited research that backed this approach. In a study by Opel et al., using a “presumptive” approach instead of a “participatory” approach when discussing a provider’s recommendation to vaccinate helped: The presumptive conversations had an odds ratio of 17.5, compared with the participatory approach. In cases in which parents resisted the provider’s recommendations, 50% of providers persisted with their original recommendations, and 47% of parents who initially resisted the recommendations agreed to vaccinate (Pediatrics. 2013;132[6]:1037-46).

Appeal to identity

Another strategy to use is appealing to the patient’s identity as a good parent and link the concept of vaccination with the good parent identity. Forging a new common identity with the parents through common beliefs – such as recognizing that networks to which parents belong are an important part of his or her identify – and reemphasizing the mutual desire to protect the child is another strategy.

Using advantageous terms

Positive terms, such as “protection,” “health,” “safety,” and “what’s best,” are much better words to use in conversation with parents and have more staying power than negative terms, like “autism” and “side effects,” Dr. Hempstead said.

“Stay with positive messaging,” he said. “Immediately coming back to the positive impact of this vaccine, why we care so much, why we’re doing this vaccine, is absolutely critical.”

Dr. Hempstead and Dr. Saba reported no relevant conflicts of interest.

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