Conversation Guide for Healthcare Professionals

Whether you are a medical assistant, nurse, pharmacist, or doctor you’ve probably encountered challenging conversations with parents that have questions or concerns about vaccines. The Vax Northwest partnership developed and tested through a randomized controlled trial a conversation guide for healthcare professionals to support healthcare providers in having more positive, productive conversations about immunization.

1. Recommend

Studies show that the single most important factor in a parent’s vaccine decision is a strong healthcare provider recommendation. Making a clear and explicit recommendation is the most important thing you can do! Clearly state your recommendation right up front.

For example, you can introduce the topic of vaccines by stating “Ann is due for 3 shots today to protect her from the cancers caused by HPV, and from infections that cause meningitis, whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria.”

2. Ask

  • Offer parents the recommended childhood immunization schedule.
  • Ask what questions they have about the schedule. Use open-ended questions.
  • Clarify and restate their concerns to make sure you understand

3. Acknowledge

Not hesitant (or planning to follow the recommended schedule)

  • Support parents’ decisions to follow the recommended schedule.
  • “Staying up to date on vaccines is the single most important thing you can do to protect your child from serious disease.”
  • “I think you’ve made a great decision.”

Hesitant (or wanting to follow an alternative schedule)

4. Advise

Not hesitant (or planning to follow the recommended schedule)

  • Encourage parents to get up to date on their own vaccines.
  • Emphasize the importance of staying on schedule with future vaccinations.
  • Suggest parents think about whether people who care for their child are up to date on their vaccines.

Hesitant (or wanting to follow an alternative schedule)

Frequently Asked Questions

Arrow Arrow What are the benefits of vaccines?

Vaccines protect against diseases that can harm your child. Some of these diseases can cause serious long-term health problems or death.

Vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical intervention, including antibiotics or surgery. Vaccines also help prevent disabilities such as blindness and paralysis that can be caused by disease.

Arrow Arrow What are the risks of vaccines?

Vaccines can cause mild side effects that usually appear within a couple days. The most common are fever or soreness where the injection was given.

Serious side effects from vaccines are extremely rare. For example, one child in a million may have a severe allergic reaction to the DTaP vaccine. There is no evidence that vaccines are linked to chronic diseases such as autism, autoimmune disease, asthma, or diabetes.

The benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks.

Arrow Arrow Haven’t we gotten rid of these diseases in the U.S.?

No. The vaccines we recommend are for diseases that still show up in the U.S., so children are still at risk. You may have heard about whooping cough (pertussis) becoming more common in the Northwest—there were more than 4,000 cases in Washington and Oregon between 2004 and 2007. Other diseases may be just a plane ride away.

Arrow Arrow Will my child be exposed to toxins from these vaccines?

No. Vaccines do contain some additives. Vaccines today contain fewer additives than the ones you may have had as a child. But some additives are necessary for vaccines to be safe and effective.

Aluminum is present in some vaccines to improve immune response. However, healthy babies quickly eliminate aluminum from their bodies. In fact, babies get more aluminum from breast milk or formula in their first six months of life than they do from vaccines.

The influenza vaccine—or “flu shot”—is the only childhood vaccine that contains the mercury-based preservative thimerosal. But our best evidence clearly shows that thimerosal in vaccines does not cause autism or other harmful effects. The form of mercury known to be dangerous to health has never been in any vaccines.

Arrow Arrow Why does my child need all these vaccines at such a young age? Is it safer to delay some shots?

The vaccines we offer to young babies are for diseases that are especially dangerous to them. These diseases can have devastating long-term effects on your baby’s health.

It is actually more dangerous to delay vaccines than to give them. This is because the diseases that vaccines prevent are more severe than any side effects. Most of the time, young babies are exposed to these diseases from people around them every day, such as brothers, sisters, parents, and other family members and caregivers.

Arrow Arrow Isn’t this too many shots at one visit?

There is no evidence that getting more than one vaccine at the same time will harm your child. Newborn babies successfully respond to many more new substances every day than are in the vaccines we recommend. The human immune system can recognize and respond to thousands of organisms in the body at the same time. This is true even for newborn babies.

Your choice to stick to the recommended vaccine schedule actually makes your child’s immune system stronger.

Arrow Arrow Can I separate the MMR vaccine into individual shots?

Separate MMR shots are not available in the U.S. But that’s a good thing. When the MMR was given separately, there were gaps of time when children were still vulnerable to the serious diseases the MMR prevents: measles, mumps, and rubella.

We use the combination MMR because we know it is safe— and because it protects against three diseases in only one shot. That’s less discomfort for your child.

Arrow Arrow Can I use an alternative schedule?

The evidence suggests that there is no benefit to delaying vaccines. In fact, it actually places your child at risk for getting a disease that vaccines could otherwise prevent.

There is flexibility within the recommended schedule. Let’s look over it together and come up with a plan that you’re comfortable with.

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