It’s okay to be hesitant about vaccines

Being a parent is full of tough choices, and for many families the decision to vaccinate falls on the list of “Things I’m Worried about as a Parent.” This is a hot topic that consistently receives lots of media attention and there’s an overwhelming number of websites discussing the pros and cons. Sifting through all of this information while attention-grabbing celebrities try to overshadow wearied medical doctors is enough to make anyone’s head spin. But I’m here today to tell you that these feelings of anxiety and confusion are normal and I don’t blame any parent for feeling hesitant when the topic comes up. 

I want to acknowledge that you as a parent are bombarded with mixed messages, some of which are very extreme and impassioned. You may even struggle to find good, balanced information given that the internet is overflowing with lots of information from a variety of perspectives. You’re in a tough position and all you really want is to make the best choice you can for your child. The really good news is that your physician has the same goal. 

VaccinesThe best part of this issue is that you’re willing to talk with your physician and hear the facts. The parents who are completely unwilling to even listen to their provider have chosen to disregard their most valuable source of information. As a physician, I can understand and work with hesitancy; it’s much harder to work with an extremist. Therefore, here’s a quick guide for how to have the most productive and fulfilling conversation with your doctor when discussing your concerns about vaccinations with your family physician. 

Come prepared with specific questions or concerns about each vaccine. Vague misgivings are harder to understand and address. Every vaccine carries a small chance of harm, but also remember that most antibiotics given for childhood ear infections have a significantly higher rate of side effects than vaccines. And, the common side effects of vaccines are extremely benign compared to the effects of the illnesses they prevent. It’s better to ask your physician, “What are the common side effects of this vaccine?” than to ask, “Will this vaccine hurt my child?” 

Be smart about your research. This isn’t the kind of topic that a generic Google search can help. Decide who your trusted sources are and look deeper into where they are getting their facts from. Yes, I personally use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website as it’s a comprehensive, up-to-date, and scientifically-backed resource. Our country’s scientific reputation is often based on the information given out by the CDC, so there’s a lot of determination to make it the best possible. And, not all scientific literature is created equally. Just as anyone can open their own publishing house to sell the books they like, anyone can create their own “scientific journal” to publish the papers they favor regardless of their factual quality. Talk to your physician or even local librarian to learn how to sort through inferior material. A decision about your child’s health deserves the highest quality facts.

Take a moment to look at this issue from your physician’s perspective. To be  honest, it does hurt when families that have trusted me for years through some very serious illnesses and injuries suddenly decide that they don’t trust me on this one topic — or worse — accuse me of wanting to harm their child.  As a parent, when you choose to have this conversation with your physician, please be mindful that your words, and sometimes unintentional accusations, can harm your relationship with your provider. Your physician is happy to discuss facts, but is not likely going to enjoy allegations they have been “bought by Big Pharma.” The truth is most offices lose money by offering vaccines but are willing to pay the difference because they care so much about keeping kids safe. 

Understand that while individual stories are powerful they may not apply to most people. Hearing about one parent’s experience touches all of us on a deep level. It can be very hard to separate out these emotions when we have to make an important decision. For example, just because one parent had a bad experience with a certain brand of diaper cream doesn’t mean you’re going to suddenly stop using it, especially if you know this brand works really well for your child. Or, at least take a balanced approach. For every story you read about a bad outcome blamed on a vaccine, find a story from someone who has suffered from the disease the vaccine could have prevented. We live in a remarkable world where polio, measles, and meningitis are not common. However, many grandparents remember losing playmates to these diseases and therefore are some of my greatest supporters for vaccinations. 

Thank you for your willingness to engage your physician on this topic in a productive and polite manner. Hopefully together we can make the best decisions for each individual child so they can grow up healthy and strong.

About Amy Seery, MD

I am a pediatrician with Via Christi Clinic and a faculty member of the Via Christi Family Medicine Residency program.
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