The CDC recently reported 695 measles cases so far this year, making it the highest annual total since U.S. health officials declared the disease eliminated in 2000. This outbreak is spreading as more and more parents are refusing to vaccinate their children and unvaccinated travelers are bringing the disease with them from other countries.
In this age of “fake news” and misinformation, patients can easily be misled about vaccines. In response, healthcare providers like you can take this as an opportunity to be the voice of reason. Here are some of the major anti-vaccine myths and how you can talk about them with for your vaccine-hesitant patients.
Myth 1: “Vaccines aren’t safe. They cause autism.”
The facts: This myth is particularly persistent within the anti-vaccine movement, even though multiple studies have shown there is no association between being vaccinated and developing autism. Furthermore, the original Wakefield study that linked vaccines to autism has been debunked several times since it was first published in the 1990s. However, bluntly stating these facts to your vaccine-hesitant patient could come across as patronizing and backfire on you.
What you can do: Interview your patient and ask them about their motivation behind this fear. If you carefully listen to them and calmly address their concerns, you’ll be much more likely to convince them to be vaccinated or to vaccinate their children. After all, most parents just want what’s best for their children.
Myth 2: “Vaccines don’t really work.”
The facts: As a healthcare provider, you probably hear this myth more in association with the flu vaccine. That’s likely because the annual flu vaccine isn’t always 100% effective, thanks to the unpredictability of this disease. However, when it comes to measles, the vaccine is very effective. Two doses of the MMR vaccine are about 97% effective, according to the CDC.
What you can do: Preliminary studies have shown that patients are more likely to accept vaccines when healthcare providers use language that assumes patients will receive vaccines. Instead of asking your patients about their views on vaccines, you could say, “Well, it’s time to take a few shots.” If that doesn’t work and this statement comes up with your patient, you should kindly and patiently talk about the differences between vaccines and how they function.
Myth 3: “Vaccine-preventable diseases aren’t really that serious.”
The facts: This anti-vaccine myth is arguably the most dangerous of all. That’s because measles and its complications can be life-threatening. Before the measles vaccine, each year an estimated 400 to 500 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 suffered encephalitis from the measles, according to the CDC.
What you can do: First, don’t demonize your vaccine-hesitant patient. It’s likely they simply do not remember a time before vaccines. Let them know how serious these childhood diseases were in the past, and how much everyone benefits from these vaccines today. You can also talk about herd immunity and how it helps protect those who can’t be vaccinated, such as the very young or immune-compromised individuals.
As a clinician on the frontlines of care, you have the chance to speak with vaccine-hesitant patients and make a difference in your community. However, you might not change minds in one visit. So, be persistent and remember that most people just want to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy.