Practice Tip of the Week | Conversations that Work: National Immunization Awareness Month
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Posted by: Shanna Howard
By Kanaka Sathasivan, MPH
While we often think that diseases like pertussis and measles are relics of the past, each year tens of thousands of people contract them along with shingles, pneumococcal disease and seasonal flu. Nurses are in a unique position and have the power to
educate and protect the public against vaccine-preventable diseases. Your recommendations make a difference to your patients. However, vaccine compliance is not always easy to achieve.
August is National Immunization Awareness Month, held to highlight the importance of vaccination for people of all ages. Texas Nurses Association would also like to take this month to stress
the importance of getting flu vaccines this year, due to the strain on the health care system caused by COVID-19.
Starting the Conversation
When you have a patient who is hesitant to vaccinate themselves or those they care for, set aside some extra time to talk with them. It is important for you to hear their concerns and understand why they may be hesitant to vaccinate. Listening is a critical
aspect of the care you provide and will also allow you to formulate a tailored response on why it is important to vaccinate while alleviating any concerns the patient may have.
Above all, we need to help patients understand the evidence-based reasons for vaccination and reassure them that vaccines are safe. State clearly that you would like them to get vaccinated and why. For example: “I recommend Tdap and flu vaccines for you
and all of my pregnant patients, because vaccination is the best way to help protect you and your baby against whooping cough and the flu.”
Providers can utilize the CDC communication model called “SHARE” to develop an approach in communicating with their
- SHARE the tailored reasons why the recommended vaccine is right for the patient given his or her age, health status, lifestyle, occupation or other risk factors.
- HIGHLIGHT positive experiences with vaccines (personal or in your practice), as appropriate, to reinforce the benefits of vaccination.
- ADDRESS patient questions and concerns about the vaccine, including side effects, safety and vaccine effectiveness in plain and understandable language.
- REMIND patients that vaccines protect them and their loved ones from many common and serious diseases.
- EXPLAIN the potential costs of getting the disease, including serious health effects, time lost (such as missing work or family obligations) and financial costs.
If your patients bring up specific concerns about risk or spread of a disease, the CDC has factsheets you can use. You can also find factsheets to counter popular
myths about vaccines — such as the idea that vaccines are not thoroughly studied or the connection between vaccination and autism — at the Immunization Action Coalition site.
Practitioners who have been in nursing for decades should remember that today’s environmentis not the same as it was 10 years ago. While distrust in vaccines has been around as long as vaccines have existed, health care professionals have long avoided debates or conversations about the risks of vaccination or its merits, partially on the idea that the science should stand alone. Some providers, particularly those in pediatrics, tend to dismiss
patients from their practice for not vaccinating.
However, avoiding tough conversations and dismissing patients ignores the patient-centered model of care and shared-decision-making model. Refusing to engage in conversation or hear concerns
can come across as hostile, disrespectful or condescending. By fostering your relationship, gathering information on the patient’s thoughts and then tailoring the information you
provide, you can empower patients and make the decision together. The goal is not to force patients to conform, but to enable positive behavior.
While conversation is important, nurses should also be brief and confident. Studies show that starting the conversation by assuming patients plan to vaccine can increase likelihood of vaccination.
This may be all that is needed. When providing information on vaccines, keep it simple, don’t overwhelm the patient with facts, and don’t spend too long talking about myths. Clearly state the myth is false and provide the correct information. Due
to confirmation bias, directly countering myths can sometimes backfire; instead, try to introduce new information.
Above all, be honest. Yes, vaccines are not 100% safe (but neither are cars, houses or eating BBQ). Yes, vaccines can cause adverse reactions in some people (but explain why you think your patient will be safe). Vaccines are trusted by the majority of scientists and providers,
who get their own children vaccinated.
Nurses, as authentic voices, can also counter vaccine hesitancy in their own networks by being vocal about vaccines on social media or speaking up in the press. Participating in community
coalitions, policy discussions and other local activities can also make a difference.