why you don't trust your doctor....

...enough to fully immunize your child

Immunization awareness month is coming to an end. We have shared posts describing immunization schedules, side effects and ingredients; the rationale behind immunization against diseases that are generally fairly mild (such as chicken pox--varicella); my early work in vaccine development; how adult immunity can help prevent infants from contracting serious diseases such as pertussis (the bacterium that causes whooping cough) and most recently a video from a TV interview about measles prevention.

I have mentioned to you that some of the interactions I have had on Twitter have helped me learn that parents often feel pressured into allowing their children to receive vaccinations, and that many times doctors seem to either not care if the parent doesn't want the immunization, or care quite a bit and argue about its necessity; but do not frequently engage in an educated discussion or provide links to more in depth information.

During a Twitter chat about social media and vaccines, I decided to initiate a series of TOWN HALLS to give parents (and any one who wants more information) a background in how the immune system works, and engage in a conversation about the pros and cons of vaccinations, as well as descriptions of the diseases the vaccines aim to prevent. I am giving a lot of the credit for this idea to Heather, a mother of two young children, and one of the frequent commentors to this blog.

By happenstance, Heather was participating in one of the same Twitter chats about vaccines, and helped me to see the importance of making information available to you, so you can make an informed choice at the doctor's office.

Now, I am not sure how well this will work; but I would like to give it a try. The real question is:

Will you come and will you bring your friends, co-workers and others who have questions?

Should we open the discussion to only those who can attend in person? , or should we use Twitter, Facebook and Google plus to take questions and disseminate information? Do you think a TV or radio station would be interested in broadcasting such a session (live)? Maybe we could take calls and answer them on the air.

What kind of information will be most helpful?

A piece I heard on NPR today suggested that it is very hard to help people un-learn something they have previously learned, even if its wrong. So if I bring you data, but you have a friend who is convinced her daughter became autistic from a vaccine, do you think I will change your view? Will it be helpful to you to hear about children I have directly taken care of with pertussis, chicken pox, meningitis, pneumonia, etc who might have lived if they had been vaccinated against the disease that caused their death?

Please let me know if any of this makes sense, and what kind of format will work best.

I am thinking an evening program at a central location with 2-3 scientists/physicians present and maybe a parent, who can address questions, concerns and try to engage in a conversation--something docs don't have time to do every day at every appointment in their offices. If it draws an interested group of parents in Roanoke, then we would take it on the road.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this blog, and thanks in advance for your advice on how we can work together to ensure the best possible health for your child and all the children in southwest Virginia.

Recent Comments

Well, but I think you gain people's trust by giving accurate information and showing WHY you have that information...that you aren't just repeating things that you have been told to say. If you can give parents ideas maybe of what to ask their PCP, it might help. Many PCPs from what I have seen, they just do what they need to do, and if the parents don't question it, they don't offer additional info. But if the parents know the right kinds of questions to ask, it might help for better communication. I also think that sharing real stories is important, but not in a way that makes it seem like you are trying to inspire fear.

Thanks for sharing with us your keen (as usual) insights. I agree that we have to take this on one person at a time. Even if folks are not convinced to see things m y way, at least I will know that we have done our best to present appropriate information, and access to vetted additional info on the web or elsewhere. My major worry with all this is how trustworthy the average primary care provider is. I wish for all docs to be truthful, transparent and open to discussion. There is not ONE right way to accomplish anything in healthcare, although there are some "best practices" and certainly there are some very clear "wrong" ways. I just want to start a dialog with parents so that we can continue that, and they can have the information they need to make the best possible decisions on behalf of their infant or child.

Thanks for your comment, Virginia. I know that debate can be confusing, but I think most parents have already sought out or seen the inaccurate information on the web, so I believe they will at least give some thought to the "pro" side if presented in a respectful fashion. Obviously, fear mongering could be very detrimental, but I still think its worth a shot. [No pun intended]

While it might create interesting discussion for other's to hear, I have heard the same discussion that it is very difficult to unlearn a belief. In fact, a series of AAP topics/ lectures I listen to in my frequent travels up and down 81, had one about a similar topic and advised not presenting the myths to parents then refuting as studies show the take home is often the myths. Apparently, when parents leave your office after a debate about the pros and cons of immunizations, the memories will have both sides but not always which was which!

I think presenting real life cases would be helpful. Some people think that will never happen to them, but it can and does. I have a friend who might come. She regrets not doing a certain vax because of how the illness affected her child, and she has changed her beliefs just like I have.

Talking about how the immune system works will be good too, as that is not something I came across when I was researching.

In my opinion, face to face would be BEST. If you can get people to meet at a certain time somewhere, that would be best because then the communication is most effective for those people, who can then bring it back to other people they know, if that makes sense. Sending it out over FB, Twitter, blogs, etc, should be secondary as follow up. With something like this, I really feel that you have to start small and local and make a difference in a few before reaching out to many.

With good information, you may be able to dispel some myths in some people. One person at a time can still make a difference. Don't feel bad if 20 people go home without having changed their minds but one person goes home and gets their kid vaxxed. That is still success. :)

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About Dr. Ackerman

Alice Ackerman, MD, MBA, FAAP, FCCM is the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Carilion Clinic and Professor and Founding Chair of Pediatrics at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Dr. Ackerman is recognized nationally as an expert in pediatric critical care.

She has been at Carilion Clinic since June of 2007. Her primary goals are to enhance the health care of children in the Roanoke Valley and Southwest Virginia, and is actively working to do this both as physician in chief of the children's hospital, as well as through involvement with many state-wide initiatives.

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