Don’t judge anti-vaxers. Talk to them.

When you hear people say, “I don’t want to vaccinate my kid. Why would I give them autism?” It’s hard not to get upset and meet your patients with some judgment.

John and Carly were middle-class Americans that had a lot of misconceptions about vaccines — mostly from the media. They loved their two-year-old daughter Leslie and wanted the best for her. They didn’t understand that we wanted the same thing. They met me with resistance when I told that there must be an issue because I couldn’t find Leslie’s vaccination records.

“There’s no issue. She isn’t getting vaccinated. She never has and never will,” they stated matter-of-factly. I blinked twice and slowly let the judgment fade from my mind. Surely, there had to be a good reason for this. “Why are you opposed to vaccines?” I asked. “We’ve honestly never been asked that. Most docs just shake their heads at us, give us a speech and move on,” they replied.

I worked with them to understand what their reservations were. It seemed that their concerns stemmed from media articles linking vaccines with autism and neurocognitive issues. They were also skeptical about the government and CDC recommendations because they worried about the motives behind official vaccination guidelines. I pulled up the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and went to the vaccine education center and walked through what all of the vaccines contained and adverse effects. The CHOP site has real evidence-based info negating any correlation between vaccines and autism, and it’s not sponsored by the CDC.

I also talked to them about what diseases the vaccines would prevent and how not immunizing puts their kid of spreading diseases to immunocompromised children. They seemed to finally come around when I said, “I’m not just saying all of this as a medical student but as someone who doesn’t want to see your kid get life-threatening meningitis or polio.”

I was amazed at how much they were willing to listen and go through every ingredient and potential side effects for all of the vaccines Leslie needed. They opposed getting all of the required vaccines right away but agreed to start her on a late vaccination schedule. John and Carly thanked me repeatedly for taking the time to sit with them and educate them. They told me that they were often met with discrimination when health care workers found out that they were anti-vaxers. They never felt as though they could adequately explain their hesitations.

My call to action to anyone dealing with anti-vaxer parents is to take the time to understand and address their uncertainties. While some parents will not be easily convinced, it is worthwhile to spend the extra time to hear them out and educate them.

The author is an anonymous medical student who blogs at Naked Medicine.

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