February 21, 2019


Everyone can be an effective advocate for vaccination: here’s how

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Listening to people’s concerns is important when talking to someone who is hesitant about vaccination.
From shutterstock.com

Jessica Kaufman, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Margie Danchin, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has named vaccine hesitancy as one of their top 10 threats to global health for 2019.

Last week, the wife of an NRL footballer made national headlines after posting on Instagram that the couple did not plan to vaccinate their children.

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Indeed, there’s rarely a time vaccination isn’t a hot topic of public debate. What’s important to note is that anyone can use evidence-based communication techniques to be an advocate for vaccination – you don’t need to be an expert in the field.

Conversations between peers can be very influential, because our behaviours are shaped by social norms, or what other people in our network value and do.

Read more:
Why people born between 1966 and 1994 are at greater risk of measles – and what to do about it

Who do we need to talk to?

While the current measles outbreaks in the United States and Europe are concerning, much of the reporting has over-simplified the issue, with sensationalised headlines placing the blame almost solely on “anti-vax” parents.

In reality, the vast majority of people whose children are missing some or all doses of the recommended vaccines are not “anti-vaxxers”, and labelling them as such is unhelpful.

The ability to register for vaccination exemption based on conscientious objection was removed in 2016, but it was last recorded in December 2015 as affecting only 1.34% of eligible children.

Current childhood vaccination coverage in Australia is between 90.75-94.67%, depending on age.

This suggests that missed opportunities and access barriers, such as parents being unable to get to the GP or a council immunisation session, are much more substantial contributors to under-vaccination.

Under-vaccination is regarded as a threat to global health.
From shutterstock.com

Communication about vaccines is unlikely to impact the behaviour of firm refusers and those facing access barriers. However, communication has enormous influence when it comes to the 43% of parents who have some questions or concerns about vaccines.

Aggressive or dismissive language can make people less likely to vaccinate, while open, respectful discussion with a trusted individual can encourage hesitant parents towards vaccination.

Read more:
Want to boost vaccination? Don’t punish parents, build their trust

Tips for discussing vaccination

Many people struggle with how to discuss vaccination when confronted with a friend, relative or acquaintance who expresses hesitancy.

Simply providing lots of facts or dismissing their views is not effective.

Instead, these are some tips everyone can use when talking about vaccines, drawing from evidence-based communication techniques. Studies in the United States and Canada have trained healthcare providers to use techniques like these to increase uptake of adolescent HPV vaccination and infant vaccines, and more studies are currently underway.

Ask about, and listen to, people’s concerns: not everyone is driven by the same issues or experiences. Find out what specifically is concerning the person. Is it safety? Effectiveness? Side effects?

Acknowledge their concerns: remember, everyone loves their children. No one is refusing to vaccinate because they want their child to get sick, or because they wilfully hope other children will get sick. Acknowledging that you see where someone is coming from can go a long way in establishing trust.

Provide information to respond to their concerns: share what you know, and try to provide reliable sources for your information. Be careful not to debunk myths too aggressively, as this can actually backfire.

Share personal stories: emotive stories tend to have more impact than facts. This is one reason stories of rare vaccine adverse events can seem to carry more weight than overwhelming safety figures. Share your own stories of positive experiences with vaccines, or better yet, discuss your experience with the diseases they prevent.

Don’t pass judgment: people may discuss vaccination many times with many different people before they decide to vaccinate, especially if they are very hesitant. Your goal should be to establish yourself as a trusted, non-judgmental person with whom they can share their questions and concerns. Berating them won’t convince them to vaccinate, but it will convince them never to speak to you about vaccines again.

Read more:
Australians’ attitudes to vaccination are more complex than a simple ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ label

These communication tips can help support discussions about vaccines with someone who is hesitant, but open to discussing their position. If, however, you find yourself publicly debating a “vocal vaccine denier”, the WHO has developed a toolkit to help guide your responses.

In such a situation, your intended audience is not the vaccine denier themselves, but the public who may be watching or reading your debate.

The techniques used by a vaccine denier could include referring to conspiracies, fake experts, selective or misrepresented evidence, or impossible expectations (such as 100% safety). The WHO recommends you identify the techniques the denier uses and then correct their content.

If you’re a strong supporter of vaccination, you can become a powerful ally in the effort to sustain high coverage rates in your community. Listen and share your views respectfully, build and maintain open and trusting relationships, and yours may be the words that encourage another person to vaccinate.The Conversation

Jessica Kaufman, Postdoctoral researcher in vaccine acceptance and communication, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and Margie Danchin, Senior Research Fellow and General Paediatrician, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

  • Personally I think it is essential but each to their own.


  • This is a great article, I vaccinate my kids, but I know quite a few anti vaxers, and They are actually lovely caring people, and it makes me sad that so many people have so much hate toward them! Infact, most people commented about the fact that they don’t know any one who doesn’t vaccinate. Maybe the judgmental talk would change if they did!
    I’m not saying they are right in not vaccinating, but I agree that there needs to be respect toward them!


  • Some good tips here. I think if I was around an anti vaxxer, I would easily lose it, not doing the cause any good at all. Hopefully I can remember some of the above tips next time I need to gave this discussion


  • Its just so hard not to judge them. They’re idiots who don’t believe in proven, verified, peer reviewed science. Instead they trust someone’s opinion.


  • Best way to discuss vaccination with an anti-vaxxer – call them pro-plague and walk away. They will not listen to anything you say.


  • I think the reason why people don’t even bother having the conversation is because there is so much dogmatic behaviour surrounding the issue. I don’t think you can really convince a person one way or another, that discussion should be had with their healthcare professional, who has an entire history of their health.


  • My family were all vaccinated but it was my choice. I wouldn’t let my boys go to someone’s house and mix with their children if they were sick and I’d hope the parents felt the same


  • Thankfully, I’ve not yet come across anyone amongst my family and friends that have even remotely considered not vaccinating their children.


  • Well I will probably keep a distance from their children


  • If someone asked me why I was having my child vaccinated, I would be telling them that I believe it is the right thing to do and why. Up to them to decide what they want for their child – I want mine to not have to suffer the consequences of not being vaccinated.


  • Why is there the assumption that people who have chosen to avoid some or all vaccinations are ignorant or lazy? In my experience they have spent the most time and consideration on the matter, read the data extensively. Some people choose to avoid them altogether, some choose to vaccinate selectively, some delay until the child’s immune system is established, some do the vaccinations separately. All are carefully considered. They also tend to be very proactive about their health. They shouldn’t have to justify themselves constantly to the self-righteous.

    • Um, no I don’t agree at all. You are endangering the lives of others (which is what you are doing not sticking to the recommended vaccination schedule or selectively vaccinating) including ALL of the elderly population, ALL very young babies,and ALL imuno-compromised children and adults. I love that people say they’ve “researched” information and have decided based on the information to do something that ALL TRAINED medical professionals recommend. I bet hands down that anyone who chooses to opt out of vaccinations have NEVER “researched” by nursing an unvaccinated child with an infectious childhood disease. If you’ve ever had to hold an unvaccinated child to help comfort them through the pain of having chicken pox EVERYWHERE, in their eyes, in their ears, in their nose, all the way down their throat you would sing a different tune. IF you’ve ever seen an unvaccinated child with measles who died from complications you’d sing a different tune.
      If you choose to opt out or selectively vaccinate, then I feel you should have to pay higher medical fees and taxes to cover the increased costs of medical services to the populations you infect.


  • Big Pharma is at it again, they have to protect their trilion dollar industry. If people were to do their research and see what actually goes in the vaccines they would realize their is a of toxins that compromise the immune systems of little babies, it is criminal. Transparency and more education about what is in vaccines to push the vaccine makers to make safer ones is what is needed.


  • Because vaccines have been pretty effective and a lot of the “bad” diseases have been kept at bay a lot the younger generations have never witnessed death or the serious side effects and complications these diseases cause. No wonder there are a lot of anti-vaxxers. Myself, I had chicken pox, measles and the mumps as a child because there were no vaccines against these diseases . My mum vaccinated me against everything else that was available though and myself and siblings are all good. My Uncle contracted Polio as a child, survived, but had a “funny” style of walking and life long problems because of it. Because of an isolated lifestyle my dad never had the mumps as a child but caught it from his children. He got very sick, nearly lost a testicle and ended up with encephalitis and nearly died. I think if people were better educated about these diseases that still exist and saw what can actually happen they may be swayed to vaccinate.


  • I agree a little bit more respect for different opinion goes a long way !


  • People who are not vaccinated should not be allowed in public places where they could spread the diseases. They have to consider little ones who aren’t old enough to be vaccinated. It’s bad enough that people are bringing in life threatening diseases from overseas. Some go for holidays and bring the diseases home with them.
    Children who aren’t vaccinated should be home schooled. Even in the late 1980s some School Principals were asking parents if there children were up to date with their vaccinations.

    • I don’t know why it doesn’t seem to sink in that if you are immunised against something then you are immunised. If you are immunised against Something. Then it stands to reason does it not that you shouldn’t get the said something? The point of the immunisation is to stop you getting it. So if you are around it it shouldn’t impact you, so why should someone near you who isn’t immunised affect anything, certainly won’t impact you, so leave non vaxxers alone, if they choose to be healthier than you by not filling their bodies with chemicals and disease like what is in current immunisations, then that’s their business, immunisation aren’t what they once were, and take it from some one who got the illnesses I was supposedly immunised against, from chicken pox to rubella to whooping cough as a teen, they don’t work anyway. You all think you are doing the right thing and you simply aren’t. Just because the government says something and it’s been in our lives for decades and therefore familiar doesn’t make it right

      • In fact it is immunized people who spread the disease because they are given it in the vaccine and their immunity is being compromised. The reason why measles are around again is because the natural immunity we had before has gone and the vaccines are not working.

      • The reason it is around again is because vaccine rates have dropped below the level required for herd immunity. Also vaccine doesn’t guarantee protection which is why herd immunity is needed. The research is there you don’t have to believe science but don’t expect others not to.


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