10 Tips for Talking With Your Child’s Doctor About Vaccinations
© Aviva Romm, MD
The topic of immunizations can be emotional – and confusing – for parents and doctors caring for children. Many parents have heard horror stories about the dangers of vaccinations; many doctors have seen frightening consequences of illness in unvaccinated children. Mutual understanding is therefore essential.
While most doctors would prefer to vaccinate all children, many are increasingly sensitive to parents’ concerns about childhood vaccinations. Many doctors feel that it is better to provide some childhood vaccinations than none at all, and to keep parents coming to the doctor rather than having patients turn their back on medical care altogether.
In response to this, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), whose guidelines are followed by pediatricians and family doctors, has encouraged doctors to engage in a respectful conversation with parents concerned about immunizations rather than disregard their worries. Pediatricians are encouraged to listen carefully and respectfully to parents’ concerns, recognizing that parents may not use the same decision criteria as the physician and may weigh evidence differently than does the physician.
The AAP advises pediatric providers to help parents make the best possible decisions based on the child’s unique circumstances, working with the parents to create a vaccine schedule and choice of vaccines with which they can feel comfortable. While the AAP recommends the full, conventional vaccine schedule, according to AAP guidelines, children should not be penalized by loss of medical care based on their parents’ choices.
Here are 10 tips for easing the immunization conversation with your child’s doctor:
1. Interview pediatricians and family doctors (both care for kids from birth to adulthood!) BEFORE you have your baby to find a like-minded doctor for your child. If you already have a doctor but cannot come to a respectful agreement about vaccinations, it may be better to find another provider; it is important to have good quality communication with your child’s care provider.
2. Start with the premise that your doctor went into family medicine or pediatrics because s/he loves kids and genuinely has your child’s best interest in mind, even if your ideas of “what’s best” are different. Let your doctor know you believe s/he has your kiddo’s best interest in mind, that you have some questions and concerns about vaccines, and that you would like to understand the doctor’s perspective on vaccinations, and that you would like to share yours.
3. Set up an appointment solely to discuss vaccinations with your child’s doctor prior to when your child’s first immunizations would be given. This allows you and the doctor plenty of time to talk, rather than trying to squeeze your concerns into an already full well-child visit.
4. Explain to your child’s doctor that you want to have an effective partnership for the optimal care of your child.
5. Respectfully and calmly, rather than emotionally, let the doctor know that you would like to use an alternative model of vaccinations; whether delaying the start of vaccinations, stretching out the schedule, or omitting some of the vaccines.
6. Ask your child’s doctor what s/he knows about alternative immunization schedules and what alternatives s/he can recommend and support.
7. If you have specific concerns about 1-2, or several vaccinations, or about vaccination ingredients, such as preservatives, explain this clearly, stating that you would, in fact, like to give most of the vaccines, and also explaining which you’d like to omit.
8. Let the physician know that you are willing to document your decision to alternatively vaccinate or to refuse vaccinations by signing a waiver.
9. Ask your child’s doctor for information on what to look out for and what to do should your child be exposed to an infectious disease.
10. Welcome an ongoing conversation about vaccinations with your child’s doctor, but respectfully ask that you not be pressured about your decisions at each visit.