For pediatricians to successfully communicate the safety and benefits of child immunization amidst a surge of vaccine hesitancy in the Philippines, they need to successfully fill gaps in knowledge and earn parents’ trust.
This is a reminder given to pediatricians during the 56th Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) Annual Convention held recently in Pasay City. In a talk on the benefits of immunization on child health, Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP) president Dr. Anna Lisa Ong-Lim emphasized the vital role of pediatricians in ensuring that children enjoy the maximum benefits of vaccination.
“As pediatricians, it is our duty to communicate the benefits of vaccination to parents,” said Ong-Lim. “For us to do this, we need to have the right approach in building parents’ trust on the safety and efficacy of vaccines on improving children’s health.”
Ong-Lim recommended various approaches that pediatricians should take in speaking with parents, depending on the latter’s level of knowledge and general attitude toward vaccines. For uninformed parents seeking professional guidance for the first time, it is important to establish the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
There are some parents who may be misinformed about certain aspects of vaccination but remain relatively open-minded. For parents who have this attitude, Ong-Lim said that doctors should respect parents’ authority and acknowledge the risks of vaccines, but these limitations should be balanced against the weightier benefits of vaccines.
There are parents who are well-read and open-minded but have many questions and concerns. These parents need help in assessing the merits of argument for and against vaccines, which should be placed in the proper context. Such discussions can help parents gain knowledge, find comfort and eventually increase their trust in vaccination.
Ong-Lim also identified some parents who are convinced that vaccines are harmful, but would still see pediatricians as a sign that they are open-minded. To earn their trust, pediatricians should ask why they think vaccines are bad as an opening for dialogue. Their point of view should be acknowledged but these can be addressed with scientific data.
Lastly, there are parents who are vehemently opposed to vaccines and would try to convince others to take their positions. These are so-called “anti-vaxxers” who may be quite vocal and opinionated regarding the topic of immunization. When dealing with these types of parents, Ong-Lim highlighted the importance of respecting their opinion. However, doctors should still perform their duty in explaining the scientific importance of vaccination on a child’s overall health.
Immunization boosts health, increases productivity
Studies have consistently shown the positive effects of immunization on children’s health. Among its established benefits are the prevention of sensitive infections, death and disability especially in the lower levels of society, which tend to be more vulnerable to a number of diseases.
Child vaccination has also been linked to children’s positive cognitive development. A Harvard study on vaccination in the first two years of life revealed that full childhood vaccination significantly increased children’s cognitive test scores compared to unvaccinated children.
Child vaccination is also linked to increased productivity and reduced poverty. According to research by Harvard University and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), vaccination could prevent about 24 million people from falling into poverty.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University also found that every dollar spent on vaccination generates $16 of savings in health care costs, lost wages, and illness-related productivity loss.
To further communicate these benefits to the public, PPS and PIDSP launched the Save The Future campaign in the wake of the nationwide measles outbreak earlier this year. The campaign called for a multisectoral approach to restore public trust in vaccination. It also pledged private practice support for the Department of Health’s (DOH) programs and efforts to boost vaccination coverage nationwide.
Just recently, the DOH announced that it has exceeded its target to vaccinate 3.8 million children aged six months to 59 months against measles. While great strides have already been achieved by pediatricians in implementing vaccination and helping decrease measles cases across the country, the DOH has yet to lift the outbreak status in Metro Manila and other regions.
Thus, the role of doctors and health professionals remain vital in addressing vaccine hesitancy. “Before we can debunk myths on how vaccines affect children’s health, we still need to earn trust by acknowledging parents’ concerns and fears. As pediatricians, however, we still need to be evidence-based when we educate parents about vaccination,” concluded Ong-Lim.
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