Nancy Tausz, MPA, BSN, RN, is the Health Services Division Director at the Johnson County Health Department. Here, she shares her thoughts on vaccine hesitancy …
Vaccines are one of the most important modern public health accomplishments and have successfully eliminated or dramatically reduced the incidence of many infectious diseases in the United States. Even with this success, some individuals are hesitant to vaccinate their children resulting in more outbreaks of preventable diseases. Vaccine hesitancy usually stems from safety issues, fear of vaccine risks, distrust of authorities or fear of multiple vaccines administered at the same time.
Support for vaccination usually involves a concern for the general well-being of the child or all children and people in the community. Vaccine advocates and health officials strive for herd immunity, a safe vaccination rate that can significantly reduce the spread of infectious disease within a community. Individuals with compromised immune systems, those that cannot receive vaccines due to medical issues, children and the elderly are more susceptible to infectious diseases when fewer citizens are vaccinated. Yet, this decision remains scary for many.
A major concern for proponents of vaccination is the information available to the general public. Celebrities who oppose vaccination have used testimony and anecdote to support their claims while the WHO and doctors around the world urge citizens to educate themselves using reliable sources such as the CDC, state health organizations and regional coalitions. These entities provide scientific research based statistics and explanations regarding the importance of vaccination.
Research shows a parent who receives a strong recommendation from a health provider is 4 to 5 times more likely to choose vaccination. It is important for health care providers to listen carefully to identify parental beliefs surrounding immunization, which allows them to educate appropriately. Doctors further impact decisions by providing “presumptive recommendation” to inform parents which shots are due, rather than a “participatory recommendation.”
As more families choose not to vaccinate, overall vaccination rates decline. Lower rates of vaccination increase the risk of preventable disease outbreaks by compromising herd immunity. Vaccine advocates can become more vocal about vaccine benefits with pro-vaccine messages on social media, sharing their stories about why they and their children are vaccinated, and continuing to support the work of local and broad health departments.