By Christine Vara
As a parent who keeps up with the latest immunization news, I feel obligated to share information about vaccines and infectious diseases. My efforts are not just limited to my contributions on the Shot of Prevention blog, but rather expand to include everyday encounters I have with friends and family.
Of course, no one wants to be that person who only talks about one thing, even if it’s something as important as vaccines. But as a parent to five children, I have plenty of opportunities to discuss immunizations in ways that are entirely appropriate to my conversations with other parents.
And in honor of National Immunization Awareness Month, I challenge you to do the same.
Don’t be hesitant to talk about vaccines. In fact, consider it a necessity. You’re not reluctant to tell others about the doctor you love or the delicious restaurant you found. Why not be as generous with the information you have about vaccines?
Even if people aren’t well versed on the subject of vaccines, they still want to know how to protect themselves and their loves ones from dangerous illnesses. We must remember that the overwhelming majority of people vaccinate. They do not need to be convinced that vaccines are safe and effective. However, they do sometimes need to be reminded.
By suggesting vaccine recommendations in your casual conversations, you can help give people the information they need to make informed decisions. Why not tell them about the measles and pertussis outbreaks in their communities or explain the risk of rising exemption rates in your local schools? There are so many ways to introduce the topic in your everyday conversations. Consider these personal experiences of mine:
At the Bus Stop
A neighbor mentioned that her son suffered with asthma so I asked if he received a seasonal flu vaccine. Although his doctor recommended it, her husband didn’t trust the CDC and therefore they never got him vaccinated. After providing statistics on the dangers of the flu and referring her to an abundance of scientific research on flu vaccine safety, she realized they had been lucky and decided to revisit her decision to get her son and all other family members vaccinated.
At a Family Function
When my expectant cousin mentioned she wouldn’t be attending a family wedding because she was hesitant to travel with her newborn, she opened the door for a discussion about health precautions for expectant moms and newborns. I explained the importance of flu and Tdap vaccine during pregnancy and also suggested her husband and anyone else who would have close contact with the baby be vaccinated. When her mother insisted that she wouldn’t need any shots because she had been vaccinated as a child, I talked about waning immunity and the need for adult Tdap boosters. By the end of the night every family member knew that their vaccination status was critical in helping to protect her baby and every other baby they came in contact with.
Out to Dinner
As we enjoyed a meal with some friends the conversation turned to our children’s summer activities. One couple mentioned that their
daughter was attending science camp and learning about infectious diseases. That was just the opening I needed. Throughout the night I learned that one of the men had meningitis as a teenager, one of the women had a bone marrow transplant that prevented her from being vaccinated, and several of the other parents failed to understand the need for HPV vaccine for boys. When I mentioned that HPV-related throat and penile cancers could be transmitted to men in ways that they may not have thought of, I referred to Michael Douglas’s case as an example. By the end of the night parents were planning meningitis boosters for their college-bound kids and asking if it was too late to get the HPV vaccine series for their boys.
These examples illustrate how easy it is to walk the walk and talk the talk. If you’re someone who is well-versed in current immunization practices, I encourage you to share your knowledge with others. Why not see how many different conversations can lead to a discussion of immunizations in one week?
Start with something as simple as commenting on social media. If you see a Facebook post about bringing kids to college suggest a meningococcal vaccine. When people discuss their concerns about the health of their elderly parents, suggest shingles, pneumococcal and influenza vaccines. When someone announces that they are expecting, make sure they know Tdap and flu vaccines are recommended for pregnant women. Of course, sharing posts from The Immunization Partnership and Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook pages will also raise awareness about recent outbreaks, changes to immunization policies and vaccine safety studies.
Sharing immunization information in everyday conversations is not as hard as you may think. Make a concentrated effort to do it day after day, and you’ll be amazed at the difference you can make in the lives of others.