If Doctors Stopped Asking For Parents’ Opinions On Vaccines, More Kids Would Get Their Shots

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In order to convince parents to get their kids vaccinated, doctors just need to stop allowing them to feel like it’s their decision, a new survey suggests.

According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, when doctors use language that indicates they’re simply assuming parents will opt for vaccinations for their young child — like “Well, now we have to do some shots” — they encounter less resistance. But when they frame it more like a choice, and ask parents whether or not they want to vaccinate their baby, parents are more likely to waver.

Even if parents initially express uncertainty about vaccines, medical professionals can still get their way if they don’t cede their ground immediately. The study found that when doctors or nurse practitioners pushed the issue, and pointed out the benefits of inoculation, almost half of anti-vaccine parents ended up relenting. But medical staff don’t always jump to do that. Half of the providers included in the study didn’t push it after parents rejected the shots.

Researchers said they decided to look into the subject because they were inspired by the “increasing number of parents who have worries about childhood vaccinations.” Indeed, even though federal officials repeatedly reassure parents that the recommended vaccination schedule is perfectly safe, rampant myths about vaccines have still led many people to believe otherwise.

Those anti-vaccine beliefs have serious consequences. Even though most of the United States has a high rate of inoculation, pockets of unprotected people can allow infectious diseases to rapidly spread. Just earlier this fall, scientists reported that California’s recent record-breaking whooping cough outbreak was likely fueled by anti-vaccine beliefs. They also believe that a lingering resistance to vaccination is helping measles, a disease that public health officials once considered to be virtually eradicated, make a comeback. And there are implications for more common illnesses, too — this past flu season, 90 percent of the kids who ended up dying from influenza hadn’t gotten vaccinated for it.

Some states are now working to strengthen their laws to make it harder for parents to opt out of immunizing their children.