Role of Nursing Professional Vaccine Strategies Read “Talking with Parents about Vaccines for Infants” from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). SEE ATTACHEDWrite a message explaining the role a NP plays in educating parents about vaccinations and dispelling the fears created by false information. 90-275 words | information for health care professionals |
Reviewed March 2012
Talking with Parents
about Vaccines for Infants
Strategies for Health Care Professionals
Immunization professionals and parents agree: times
Because of questions or concerns about vaccines, well-child
visits can be stressful for parents. As their infant’s health
care provider, you remain parents’ most trusted source of
information about vaccines. This is true even for parents with
the most questions and concerns. Your personal relationship
uniquely qualifies you to help support parents in understanding
and choosing vaccinations.
However, time for infant health evaluation at each well visit
is at a premium, as you check physical, cognitive, and other
milestones and advise parents on what to expect in the coming
months. Therefore, making time to talk about vaccines may be
stressful for you. But when an infant is due to receive vaccines,
nothing is more important than making the time to assess
the parents’ information needs as well as the role they desire
to play in making decisions for their child’s health, and then
following up with communication that meets their needs.
THIS RESOURCE COVERS:
4 What you may hear from parents about
their vaccine safety questions and how
to effectively address them
4 Proven communication strategies and
tips for having a successful vaccine
conversation with parents
When it comes to communication, you may find that similar
information—be it science or anecdote or some mix of the
two—works for most parents you see. But keep a watchful eye
to be sure that you are connecting with each parent to maintain
trust and keep lines of communication open.
4 This brochure is part of a comprehensive
set of educational materials for health
care professionals and parents available at
We hope that these brief reminders—and the materials that
you, your staff, and parents can find on our website— will help
ensure your continued success in immunizing infants and
children. Success may mean that all vaccines are accepted when
you recommend them, or that some vaccines are scheduled
for another day. If a parent refuses to vaccinate, success may
simply mean keeping the door open for future discussions
about choosing vaccination.
Nurses, physician assistants, and other office staff
play a key role in establishing and maintaining
a practice-wide commitment to communicating
effectively about vaccines and maintaining
high vaccination rates: from providing parents
with educational materials, to being available
to answer their questions, to making sure that
families who may opt for extra visits for vaccines
make and keep vaccine appointments.
What You May Hear From Parents
As you plan for responding to parents’ concerns, it may be useful to think of parental questions in the
Questions about whether vaccines cause autism
Parents may encounter poorly designed and conducted studies,
misleading summaries of well-conducted studies, or anecdotes
made to look like science—claiming that vaccines cause autism.
Many rigorous studies show that there is no link between MMR
vaccine or thimerosal and autism. Visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/
conversations for more information to help you answer parents’
questions on these two issues. If parents raise other possible
hypotheses linking vaccines to autism, four items are key: (1)
patient and empathetic reassurance that you understand that their
infant’s health is their top priority, and it also is your top priority, so
putting children at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases without
scientific evidence of a link between vaccines and autism is a risk
you are not willing to take; (2) your knowledge that the onset
of regressive autism symptoms often coincides with the timing
of vaccines but is not caused by vaccines; (3) your personal and
professional opinion that vaccines are very safe; and (4) your
reminder that vaccine-preventable diseases, which may cause
serious complications and even death, remain a threat.
“All those people who say that the
MMR vaccine causes autism must
be on to something.”
“Autism is a burden for many families and people
want answers—including me. But well designed
and conducted studies that I can share with you
show that MMR vaccine is not a cause of autism.”
Questions about whether vaccines are more dangerous
for infants than the diseases they prevent
Today, parents may not have seen a case of a vaccine-preventable
disease firsthand. Therefore, they may wonder if vaccines are
really necessary, and they may believe that the risks of vaccinating
infants outweigh the benefits of protecting them from infection
with vaccine-preventable diseases. Visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/
conversations for up-to-date information on diseases and the
vaccines that prevent them that you can share with parents. You
may be able to provide information from your own experience
about the seriousness of the diseases, the fact that cases and
outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases are occurring now in
the U.S., and that even when diseases are eliminated in the U.S.,
they can make a rapid return in children and adults who are not
immunized if travelers bring the diseases into the U.S. You also
can remind parents about ongoing efforts to ensure the safety
of vaccines, including the large-scale reporting system, Vaccine
Adverse Event Reporting System (http://www.vaers.hhs.gov), used
to alert FDA and CDC to any possible problems with a vaccine
so that they can be studied in more detail.
“What are all these vaccines for?
Are they really necessary?”
“I know you didn’t get all these vaccines when
you were a baby. Neither did I. But we were
both at risk of serious diseases like Hib and
pneumococcal meningitis. Today, we’re lucky to
be able to protect our babies from 14 serious
diseases with vaccines.”
Questions about the number of vaccines and
Some parents may have a general concern that there are too
many vaccines. With respect to timing and spacing of vaccines,
the childhood vaccine schedule is designed to provide protection
at the earliest possible time against serious diseases that may
affect infants early in life. The Childhood Immunization Schedule
fact sheet (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/conversations) may be
useful for those parents, as well as for parents who have specific
questions. Some parents may be able to specify their concerns:
whether each vaccine is needed, whether giving several vaccines
at one time can cause harm, whether vaccine ingredients are
harmful, or how well each vaccine works. For these parents,
you can specifically reinforce the seriousness of the diseases
prevented by vaccines, and share your knowledge that no
evidence suggests that a healthy child’s immune system will
be damaged or overwhelmed by receiving several vaccines at
one time. Understanding Vaccine Ingredients (http://www.cdc.gov/
vaccines/conversations) can help you counter myths that have
circulated about vaccine ingredients. You may need to share
with some parents that not only should each vaccine series
be started on time to protect infants and children as soon as
possible, but each multi-dose series must be completed to
provide the best protection.
“I’m really not comfortable with
my 2-month-old getting so many
vaccines at once.”
“There’s no proven danger in getting all the
recommended 2-month vaccines today. Any time
you delay a vaccine you leave your baby vulnerable
to disease. It’s really best to stay on schedule. But
if you’re very uncomfortable, we can give some vaccines today and schedule you to come back in two
weeks for the rest, but this is not recommended.
Questions about known side effects
Questions about unknown serious adverse events
It is reasonable for parents to be concerned about the possible
reactions or side effects listed on the Vaccine Information
Statements, especially fever, redness where a shot was given, or
fussiness that their child may experience following vaccination.
Remind parents to watch for the possible side effects and
provide information on how they should treat them and how
they can contact you if they observe something they are concerned
about. To reinforce how rare serious side effects really are, share
your own experience, if any, with seeing a serious side effect from
Parents who look for information about vaccine safety will
likely encounter suggestions about as-yet-unknown serious
adverse events from vaccines. It is not unreasonable that parents
find this alarming. You can share what the world was like for
children before there were vaccines. And you can share that
increases in health problems such as autism, asthma, or
diabetes don’t have a biologic connection to vaccination.
We have no evidence to suggest that vaccines threaten a long,
healthy life. We know lack of vaccination threatens a long
and healthy life.
“I’m worried about the side effects
of vaccines. I don’t want my child
to get any vaccines today.”
“I’ll worr y if your child doesn’t get vaccines today,
because the diseases can be very dangerous—
most, including Hib, pertussis, and measles, are
still infecting children in the U.S. We can look at
the Vaccine Information Statements together and
talk about how rare serious vaccine side effects are.”
“You really don’t know if vaccines
cause any long-term effects.”
“We have years of experience with vaccines
and no reason to believe that vaccines cause
long-term harm. I understand your concern, but
I truly believe that the risk of diseases is greater
than any risks posed by vaccines. Vaccines
will get your baby off to a great start for a long,
Communication Strategies—How to Have a Successful Dialogue
A successful discussion about vaccines involves a two-way conversation, with both parties sharing information
and asking questions. These communication principles can help you connect with parents by encouraging
open, honest, and productive dialogue.
Take advantage of early opportunities such as the prenatal, newborn, 1-week, and 1-month visits to initiate a dialogue
about vaccines. These also are good opportunities to provide take-home materials or direct parents to immunization
websites that you trust. This gives parents time to read and digest reputable vaccine information before the first and all future
immunizations. And when parents have questions, you can build on the reputable information that they already have reviewed.
With parents who have many questions, consider an extended visit to discuss vaccinating their child.
Take time to listen.
If parents need to talk about vaccines, give them your full
attention. Despite a full schedule, resist the urge to multi-task
while a parent talks. Maintain eye contact with parents, restate
their concerns to be sure you understand their viewpoint, and
pause to thoughtfully prepare your reply. Your willingness to
listen will likely play a major role in helping parents with their
decisions to choose vaccination.
Solicit and welcome questions.
If parents seem concerned about vaccines but are reluctant to
talk, ask them open-ended questions and let them know that
you want to hear their questions and concerns.
Put yourself in parents’ shoes and acknowledge parents’
feelings and emotions, including their fear and desire to protect
their children. Remind parents that you know why they are
concerned—their infant’s health is their top priority. Remind
them that it is yours, too.
Keep the conversation going.
If parents come to you with a long list of questions or
information from the Web or other sources, don’t interpret this
as a lack of respect for you. Instead, acknowledge that spending
time to research vaccines means that this is an important topic
for the parents. If you appear offended by questions, or if you
imply that a parent’s questions are uncalled for, dialogue may
shut down and trust may be eroded.
options to distract from the pain of the shot, including telling
a favorite story, singing, or taking deep breaths and blowing
out the pain. After the shots, toddlers can be praised for getting
through the shots and reassured that everything is okay.
After the Office Visit
Document parents’ questions and concerns.
A thorough record of your discussion will be an invaluable
reference during the child’s future visits.
Science versus anecdote?
Too much science will frustrate some parents. Too little science
will frustrate others. For some parents, too much anecdotal
information won’t hit the mark. For others, a story from your
experience about an unprotected child who became ill, or
knowing that children in your family have received all of their
vaccines, will be exactly on target. Which approach to use will
depend on your knowledge of the family. Watch and listen. Be
prepared to use the mix of science and personal stories that will
be most effective in addressing parents’ questions.
Acknowledge benefits and risks.
Always discuss honestly the known side effects caused by
vaccines. But don’t forget to remind parents of the overwhelming
benefit of preventing potentially serious diseases with vaccines.
It’s honest to say that not vaccinating is a risk that will
Respect parents’ authority.
Many parents today want to work in partnership with their
child’s physician. Of course, you work in partnership with
parents every day, for example, by eliciting reports from them
about how their infants are progressing. By talking respectfully
with parents about their immunization concerns, you can
build on this partnership, build trust, and support parents in
the decision to choose vaccination.
Reduce the stress of shots.
Show parents ways they can make the vaccination visit less
stressful for the child. It can begin by reinforcing that crying is
a normal response for the child and suggesting that they stay
calm so that the child does not become aware of their stress. For
infants, you can suggest that parents use a favorite blanket or
toy to distract the baby from the pain of the shots, and that they
touch and soothe the baby, talk softly, and smile and make eye
contact during the shots. After shots for infants, mothers may
wish to cuddle or breastfeed. For toddlers, there are many more
If parents express extreme worry or doubt, contact them a few
days after the visit. A caring call or e-mail will provide comfort
and reinforce trust.
What If Parents Refuse to Vaccinate?
Excluding children from your practice when their parents decline
immunizations is not recommended. It can put the child at risk
of many different health problems—not just vaccine-preventable
diseases. Remember, unvaccinated infants did not decide for
themselves to remain unvaccinated. They need your care. Make
sure that parents are fully informed about clinical presentations of
vaccine-preventable diseases, including early symptoms. Diseases
like pertussis and measles are highly contagious and may present
early as a non-specific respiratory illness. Parents who refuse
vaccines should be reminded at every visit to call before bringing
the child into the office, clinic, or emergency department when
the child is ill so appropriate measures can be taken to protect
others. When scheduling an office visit for an ill child who has
not received vaccines, take all possible precautions to prevent
contact with other patients, especially those too young to be fully
vaccinated and those who have weakened immune systems.
If a parent refuses to vaccinate, you can share the fact sheet
If You Choose Not to Vaccinate Your Child, Understand the Risks
and Responsibilities (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/conversations),
which explains the risks involved with this decision including
risks to other members of their community, and the additional
responsibilities for parents, including the fact that, when their
child is ill, they should always alert health care personnel to
their child’s vaccination status to prevent the possible spread of
vaccine-preventable diseases. You also can tell the parent that
you would like to continue the dialogue about vaccines during
the next visit, and then make sure to do so. You may wish to have
them sign AAP ’s Refusal to Vaccinate form (http://www.aap.org/
immunization/pediatricians/pdf/refusaltovaccinate.pdf ) each time a
vaccine is refused so that you have a record of their
refusal in their child’s medical file.
Remember, not all parents want the same level of medical or scientific information about vaccines. By assessing the level of
information that a particular parent wants, you can communicate more effectively and build trust.
For the information resources mentioned in this sheet, and others, look for Provider Resources for Vaccine Conversations with Parents
at http://ww.cdc.gov/vaccines/conversations or call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636). These resources are free to download and ready
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