Vaccinations: A Simple Shot in the Arm is a Pain in Your Neck

Parents hate seeing their kids upset or hurt. And the business side of vaccinations isn't any more pleasant.

Ah, the dreaded needle… kids hate the way it feels (if you’ve never had a breath-holder throw a tantrum over a shot in your office, go to http://awesomemom.blogspot.com/2007/03/how-to-surprise-your-pediatrician.html for an impressive demonstration). Parents hate seeing their kids upset or hurt. And the business side of vaccinations isn’t any more pleasant; vaccines cost quite a bit, undergo frequent changes, can be variable in supply, and sometimes it’s anyone’s guess as to which vaccinations are covered by which insurance company.

To complicate matters, many recommended immunizations — particularly those for adolescents – are not covered by insurance at all, which means that you’re left to convince parents that expensive inoculations are worth the investment. Many parents who went through chicken pox themselves are a hard sell when approached about vaccinating their children, and HPV vaccination is an even touchier subject for parents who are unprepared or unwilling to address the risk of STDs in their young girls.

Then, just when you thought well-child care couldn’t produce a bigger headache, there appears another mountain to climb for vaccinations: bad press.

Vaccinations have come under fire in the past few years as the cause of a variety of ills, including autism, immune disorders, and more recently, shaken baby syndrome. And the fact that science has not established real links between vaccinations and these problems doesn’t seem to dent the public hysteria; the topic has become such a hot-button issue that even politicians are weighing in (see the recent New York Times article addressing John McCain’s recent comments on the subject ). Sadly, this is probably garnering more attention than stories that demonstrate just why immunizing our kids is so important (such as this one and this one).

That we are able to thwart the devastating effects of many diseases through vaccinations is an enormous accomplishment, and negative headlines are counterproductive to say the least. What to do when faced with parents who condemn vaccinations on such shaky grounds? The CDC website offers strategies for communicating with hesitant parents as well as useful links, such as to the AAP liability form and to state immunization requirements. But perhaps pediatricians and other healthcare professionals could be doing more to keep the public focused on the big picture, which is that vaccinating our kids has been and still is a good thing.

Educating parents through your website, pamphlets, or squeezing in an extra conversation during the already packed 15-minute well-child check up may help alleviate some concerns and prepare parents for future vaccination decisions. How does your practice handle the issue? If you have implemented a creative strategy, share it here.