At the Vaccine Education Center we are often asked about vaccine communication. So, this month, we are sharing some of the framework we consider when developing materials and tools, talking with healthcare providers, and answering questions that we get directly from families. Hopefully, the ideas provide “food for thought” related to your own approach to vaccine communication.
Vaccines: The first thing to remember
Most parents choose to vaccinate. Most parents trust their healthcare providers. And, most parents agree that the benefits of vaccines outweigh their risks. A survey published by the Pew Research Center in February 2017 found that almost 9 out of 10 survey participants agreed that the benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks. Sometimes it may not feel like people support vaccines, but in most cases, even those with questions are not completely against vaccinations. Operating from the point of view that the person with a question is simply seeking an answer and not trying to forego a vaccination may help in framing a more positive response.
Of interest, the aforementioned Pew survey also found that 8 out of 10 participants agreed that vaccines should be mandated for school entrance.
What refrigerators can teach us about vaccines
How often do you think about your refrigerator? (Not much?) How often do you use (benefit from) your refrigerator? (Everyday?)
The same can be said of vaccines. Although we in the field of healthcare think about vaccines virtually every day, most people do not. Most only think about vaccines when they need to because of an outbreak, a new baby or another life moment when vaccines are pertinent. Additionally, it is rare that people think about the benefits they enjoy from their refrigerator keeping food cold or their vaccines keeping them healthy.
Continuing with this example, think about when you would want information about refrigerators. (When you are shopping for a new one?) If you are at the store and the appliance sales person meets you in the clothing department, are you very interested in what he or she has to say? (Probably not?) But when you go to the appliance department, do you expect the sales person to be able to answer your questions? (Probably yes?)
As it relates to vaccines, this example reminds us that as healthcare providers, it is important to keep patients on track and be prepared with the right information at the right time.
Vaccines: The second thing to remember
Think about the things you do as a healthcare provider. Much of your time is likely spent treating illnesses or injuries. And, while you can speak about healthy lifestyle choices, often follow-through is left up to the patient. In the case of vaccines, you have something tangible to offer. In this way, vaccines can be approached as a service you provide.
By approaching vaccines as a service offered to keep people healthy, the details of and effort associated with vaccine administration may seem less burdensome. This approach can also keep the whole clinical team on the same page in terms of attitudes about vaccine administration as well as how best to promote and implement strategies to improve “customer service” around vaccines.
What mechanics can remind us about vaccines
Have you ever tried to describe the sound your car is making to your mechanic only to be met with a look of incredulity? How did it make you feel? (Awful?) Even after your car is fixed, that feeling remains. And the next time you go to the garage, you probably remember it, causing apprehension leading up to the conversation about the new problem with your car. How would you prefer your mechanic respond? (Respectfully, truthfully and with confidence and patience?)
The same is true of vaccine conversations. If a parent or patient is asking a question, they want someone to answer them with respect and patience, and they also want that person to be truthful and confident in their response. Sometimes, this can be difficult, especially, if this is the same question you have answered many times before. But, it is important to remember that while it may be the 10th time (that day) you are answering the question, it is likely the first time the person in front of you is asking it, and your response will have effects on the long-term relationship with this family.
Vaccines: The third thing to remember
While “kindness is one size fits all,” education is not. The CDC’s Vaccine Information Statements (VIS) are legally required for everyone (before every dose of vaccine) as a way of ensuring a baseline level of education for all. However, VIS will not answer everyone’s questions, especially those related to some of the common vaccine safety questions. For this reason, groups like the CDC and health departments, professional organizations and other stakeholders continue developing information in different formats.
As a provider, it is important to determine what questions your population has and what formats work for them. Even different families in the same practice may not respond to the same information. At the VEC, we try to provide information in a variety of formats so that you have different tools from which to choose. If you have not reviewed our materials lately, click the links on this page to view our Q&A sheets, booklets, videos, mobile app, and more. VEC materials can be photocopied for distribution, and you can link to the materials or parts of our website from your own websites. Additionally, you can quote our resources in your own newsletters, websites, and social media channels as long as you cite us as the source. Finally, if you are having trouble locating a resource about a particular topic, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We may provide information about our own or other groups’ materials.
We hope you found these ideas to be helpful, and if so, put a picture of a mechanic on your vaccine refrigerator as a reminder that:
- Most people agree that the benefits of vaccines outweigh their risks.
- People don’t typically think about vaccines (or their benefits) unless they must.
- Vaccines are a service you offer to keep families healthy.
- People want respect, patience, truthfulness and confidence in responses to vaccine questions.
- While “kindness is one size fits all,” education is not.