Talking the talk on vaccines

2 min read

Recent disease outbreaks have been traced to deliberately unvaccinated Americans—and anti-vaccine sentiment is a serious health concern. Barry Bloom, an infectious diseases expert at Harvard School of Public Health, thinks health care providers need better strategies—based on solid evidence—for communicating the importance of vaccination to hesitant and skeptical parents.

Why is it so important that research be done on how best to communicate with vaccine-hesitant parents? Can’t health care providers figure out good strategies on their own?

A recent editorial in the journal Science that I co-authored says it best: “Strategies to combat anti-vaccine messages cannot be developed by educated guesswork.” We really need to understand how people get their information about vaccines. Is it from the Internet? Social networks? Religious organizations? Doctors? We also need to understand how people make their decisions. Clearly scientific evidence for many people is not sufficient. And we need to determine the most convincing way for health care providers to present scientific evidence on vaccines so that it addresses parents’ concerns and encourages them to vaccinate their kids and by so doing, protect their communities.

Some interesting recent research looked at four different ways of presenting vaccine information to parents. The one that I would have thought made the most sense, a priori—asking parents if they have concerns about vaccines, asking what the concerns are, acknowledging those concerns, and providing advice but not telling them what to do—did not do best in the study.