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Training Doctors to Talk About Vaccines Doesn't Change Parents' Minds

The Short of It

Some parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children because they believe vaccines could hurt them. But what if doctors were trained to listen more closely to their concerns while still recommending vaccinations? Well, that wouldn't change their minds, says a recent study.

The Lowdown

Medical groups from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the CDC and the World Health Organization recommend vaccines, yet there's still an upswing in the number of parents who choose not to have them given to their children.

The study aimed to find a solution: Training pediatricians to better communicate with their patients' parents when they expressed worry.

In the study, 347 women with newborns were put into two groups. Half the women's doctors received 45 minutes of training in talking about vaccines, plus written support material, regular emails and the access to help when they needed it. The other half had doctors without the training.

After six months, "vaccine hesitancy" went down in both groups of moms, but researchers say it has nothing to do with the training and more possibly was related to a whooping cough outbreak that happened during that time period and a new law making it more difficult for parents to opt out of vaccines.

"Obviously, we were hopeful that it would improve vaccine hesitancy, so we would have preferred to see a different effect," said the study's lead author, Nora Henrikson. "But it really raised more questions about what other projects we could do moving forward."

The Upshot

Researchers say there's more research to be done on the subject and are hopeful the results will lead to other solutions.

"We're headed in the right direction," said Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth who studies communication about vaccines. "We're starting to ask better questions, and part of real science is that sometimes our experiments don't work out the way we expect."

Other studies have shown that doctors are parents' most trusted communicators about vaccines, so there may be other similar methods that may be effective. Experts suggest that longer training sessions could be more helpful, as could spending more time with parents who are concerned about vaccines—something that may sometimes be overlooked because most parents do choose to vaccinate.

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