The New Front Line: Boosting Vaccine Confidence
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The New Front Line: Boosting Vaccine Confidence

Boosting nationwide vaccination confidence starts with healthcare workers in the trench-es. It’s up to medical assistants and other healthcare professionals to ensure that parents have the vaccine confidence they need going forward.

Based on an article by Novid Parisi from the AMT Pulse, Winter 2020.

A major step toward boosting nationwide vaccination confidence starts with healthcare workers in the trenches.

Vaccination coverage is a victim of its own success. As coverage increases and disease decreases, people have less contact with others suffering vaccine-preventable diseases. After all, the country’s last smallpox outbreak happened in 1949; the last case of polio was in 1979. Many simply don’t fear such diseases.

“For young adults today, vaccination is a matter of faith—these diseases are historic as far as they’re concerned,” says Paul Offit, MD, Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Division of Infectious Diseases, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Recently, diseases once thought eradicated in most communities are seeing pockets of re-emergence in some areas. “Measles, in particular, is the canary in the coalmine. Because it’s the most contagious of vaccine preventable diseases, it’s the one you see come back first when people choose not to vaccinate.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination programs today are mostly successful. “Most people know vaccination benefits us and our society,” says Litjen Tan, PhD, chief strategy officer for the Immunization Action Coalition in Chicago.

Yet, anti-vaccination sentiment continues to rise, in part because of the proliferation of incorrect information. But it’s not so much the small anti-vaccine minority that concerns Tan. It’s the large majority of parents who hear the anti-vaccine messaging. “Those parents aren’t against vaccines, but they hear the misinformation, and that’s the group whose hearts and minds we’re trying to maintain,” he says.

One major way to build their confidence? Frontline healthcare professionals.

Much of the vaccination success stems from two programs: state-level school-entry vaccination requirements and the federal Vaccines for Children Program, which provides free vaccines to uninsured kids. But it’s up to medical assistants and other health care professionals to ensure that parents have the confidence in vaccines they need, which includes confidence in the research, development, manufacturing, approval and post-approval surveillance process of vaccines. “When people don’t have confidence in the entire journey of vaccines, they have vaccine hesitancy, and that’s what we want to avoid,” Tan says.

Healthcare workers can bolster that confidence, says Lois M. Ramondetta, MD, a professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, “Medical assistants are often the first people in the room with patients, and they will be looked at as trusted healthcare providers.

"It's up to medical assistants and other healthcare professionals to ensure that parents have the vaccine confidence they need going forward."

How should medical assistants approach the topic of vaccination? First and foremost, healthcare staff should make a presumptive recommendation for vaccination, Tan says. To do so, the provider informs the parent of the vaccines to be administered at that visit and then asks if the parent has any questions.

If the parent does have a question, health care workers should resist the urge to interpret that as a sign of resistance. “Don’t assume that a question is an attack,” Ramondetta says. “Recognize that you and the parents have the same goal: to protect their children. The majority of people who are vaccine hesitant just need more information and their provider’s recommendation.”

When these conversations take place, building vaccine confidence requires countering any misinformation with facts. For instance, if parents question the correlation between higher vaccine rates and higher autism rates, healthcare workers must point out that correlation is not causation. Dr. Tan says he likes to present a graph showing increasing organic food sales overlaid with another showing increasing autism rates. His point? We don’t say that organic apples lead to autism.

Ultimately, though, the effort to boost vaccine confidence can’t be understated. “You have the ability through your words to help patients and parents reach a level of confidence that allows them to keep kids from suffering,” Ramondetta says. “Your words matter.”

Read the full article in the Winter 2020 issue of AMT Pulse.

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Vaccination Webinar Series

The vaccination series of webinars consists of four individual webinars presented by leading experts such as Lois Ramondetta and Dr. L.J. Tan, both quoted above. This timely information will help you educate your patients about vaccinations.

  • Measles Disease and Vaccination. This webinar provides a general description of measles, recent epidemiology in the US and facts about the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, including recommended use, effectiveness, administration, storage, handling, and adverse events.
  • Preventing HPV Cancer. This webinar describes HPV cancers, the importance of vaccination, patient and parent communication strategies, vaccine safety and efficacy, and roles and resources regarding when and how to recommend the HPV vaccine.
  • What’s New with Flu in 2019-2020. This webinar discusses recommendations for the 2019-2020 influenza season along with best strategies for patient communication.
  • Vaccination Conversations. Learn techniques to talk to your patients. This webinar details the current atmosphere of vaccine confidence, what led to it, and how we can engage and educate patients to improve acceptance of vaccines.

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