Vaccine-hesitant patients

Paul Hayes

25/10/2017 12:00:00 AM

The RACGP is firm in its belief that GPs, as the community’s first point of healthcare contact, are the most trusted source of advice on immunisations. As such, it is important that GPs understand all aspects of this vital aspect of healthcare, including common misinformation regarding perceived harms of childhood vaccination, as well as how to effectively deal with patients who are reluctant to have their child immunised.

GPs are a key source of advice for immunisations
GPs are a key source of advice for immunisations

‘Health professionals are the single most important influence on individuals making a decision to immunise themselves or their children,’ Dr Peter Eizenberg, a GP with a special interest in immunisation, told the RACGP. ‘It is important that health professionals be well informed about common vaccination concerns so they can provide authoritative and scientifically valid advice.
‘To obtain valid consent, it is important that those delivering vaccines honestly discuss the benefits and risks of vaccination, along with the risks of disease and complications which may result from withholding vaccination.
‘If patients or parents raise arguments against vaccination, the best approach is for health professionals to listen to the person’s concerns, explore their reasoning and then tailor appropriate information to the person’s individual circumstances and education levels.
‘Decision-making about vaccination should be treated as a partnership between the patient and their health professional. Health professionals should avoid downplaying concerns or offering overtly personal opinions, respect differences of opinion and consider the personal, cultural and religious background that may influence a person’s decisions about vaccination.’
Suggested approaches for vaccine-hesitant and refusing parents
Vaccine-hesitant parents:

  • Prepare to spend time with the parent and child
  • Explore and address concerns
  • Do not dismiss concerns
  • Discuss the risks of the disease and vaccine
  • Have resources to support your discussion
  • Avoid overwhelming people with too many statistics and facts
  • Offer further opportunities to discuss vaccination or whether to vaccinate
Refusing parents:
  • Keep the discussion brief but let them know they can come back to you
  • Acknowledge their concerns
  • Do not overstate the safety of vaccines
  • Do not be forceful around firmly held beliefs
  • Do not confront people with scientific facts and figures
  • Provide available resources
  • Offer opportunities to discuss vaccination when they are ready
Visit the RACGP website to access the Guidelines for preventive activities in general practice (9th edition) (Red book) for more information on immunisation, and the Department of Health website to view The Australian immunisation handbook (10th edition) and Myths and realities: Responding to arguments against vaccination: A guide for providers.

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