Training Serves Doctors Little When Trying To Get Parents On Board With Childhood Vaccinations

Immunization
Doctors received training on how to best convince parents vaccinations are necessary, and even that didn't really work. christina rutz, CC BY 2.0

In the struggle to find new ways to convince anti-vaxxers immunizations for their children are necessary, a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found it's going to take more than provide doctors with proper communication skills training.

Researchers devised a 45-minute class to be led by a pediatric immunization expert in an attempt to improve methods doctors use to talk to parents about vaccines. In addition to communication skills, the class, which stressed the importance of establishing trust with parents, also offered additional web training, monthly email reminders on discussed strategies, and different types of literature doctors could give to parents. Thirty clinics in the Washington state area actually offered the class, while 26 other clinics served as a control.

When the doctors completed the course, however, they were no more successful at changing parents' minds than doctors were in the control clinics. Dr. Nora Henrikson, a research associate for Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, told Reuters, "it’s possible that a longer, higher-intensity version of the training might be more effective."

Henrikson added understanding the beliefs of mothers who choose to not have their children vaccinated may lead to more-effective training. Along with her team, Henrikson recruited 347 new mothers planning on receiving childcare from one of the 30 clinics receiving training in the first study. Researchers vetted mothers' views on vaccinations when their child was four to six weeks old, and again when the child was six months old. Then, these mothers discussed immunization with a trained doctor.

The results, unfortunately, did not produce significant changes. From the start of the study, about 11 percent of moms were weary of vaccinations, while two percent were strictly opposed. Out of the mothers who met with trained pediatricians, resistance to immunization dropped from 9.8 percent to 7.5 percent compared to mothers who met with untrained doctors; their resistance rate dropped from 12.6 percent to 8 percent, which is a surprisingly better outcome. 

Researchers admit their values may be skewed, because not all of the clinics involved in the first study saw mothers participating in the second study. What's more is some doctors and mothers who agreed to be in the study did not follow-up with the necessary surveys afterwards. Henrikson said the study may have not found significant results, because the number of mothers in opposition to vaccines was less than expected. 

Julia Leask, a public health researcher at the University of Sydney, New South Wales, in Australia, suggested it is going to take more than one, short 45-minute session to give doctors the training they need. Leask pointed out, too, some of the doctors that received training may have already been proficient in communication about immunizations and did not need the class in the first place. Yet, despite these mistakes, Leask believes it isn't time to jump ship just yet.

“We need to be very careful in not abandoning an intervention that may have not been delivered to enough people in enough of a dose,” she explained.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in most places across the country, 95 percent of children have received necessary vaccinations for conditions like rubella, mumps, measles, tetanus, and pertussis. However, the CDC also notes that in some pockets of the US, rates of vaccination are very low thanks to the efforts of anti-vaxxer parents. Researchers are seeking to target these few who subject their children to a slew of serious, potentially fatal diseases. 

Source: Henrikson N, Opel D, Dunn J, et al. Physician Communication Training and Parental Vaccine Hesitancy: A Randomized Trial. Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 2015. 

 

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