The Importance of Asking, "Why?"
I am pro-immunization. I have seen the statistics, seen and experienced first-hand some of the diseases that we immunize against today (because the vaccines against those diseases didn't exist before I was exposed to them) and I have formed an educated opinion. I am very passionate about prevention and that is why I became a public health nurse. Why care for someone in a hospital when I can stop them from even needing to go there in the first place? I also pride myself on my ability to convert people who choose not to immunize by having a discussion that starts with one question: why?
As pro-immunization healthcare providers, we often forget to ask that question when it comes to vaccination. Too frequently we assume that our clients' opinions about immunization stem from internet "research" or certain celebrities making false claims. And we all know what they say about assuming...
I value facts, statistics and results, but I find that many clients I have encountered in my practice value lived experience more than fact-based evidence. And that makes sense. If I saw my next door neighbour's child suddenly, temporarily paralyzed due to an extremely rare reaction (about 1-2 per 1,000,000 following certain immunizations) to a vaccine, I think that I might think more than twice before putting my child on the line too. If fear of risk of harm is why my client hasn't immunized their child, and they have two friends who happen to be those 1-2 people in a million who experience a rare adverse reaction to an immunization, their whole perception of the level of risk is going to be skewed. We have to remember: these parents aren't negligent; they want the best for their children and are trying to keep their children safe and healthy.
I have found through my own lived experience that once I can understand why a person chooses not to immunize, I can start the conversation of why they should consider it, using facts and statistics, but also taking the time to address the reason that they decided not to immunize in the first place. Sometimes that means more than just spewing out statistics and expecting my clients to understand. Sometimes it means that I have to give a mini stats lesson and sometimes it means I need to change my approach and the language I use. And it's really important to remain non-judgemental and know when to stop. Because sometimes those two things can be the difference between having a client come back for another discussion, and possibly immunization, and having them shut down on me completely, never to return, trust in the health care system once again gone.
I have had more than a few clients break into tears in my office and thank me for *listening* to them and that alone is sometimes all it takes for them to begin to form new opinions of health care providers and the health care system which may ultimately lead to a change in opinion about immunizations. Even if that doesn't mean that they decide to immunize their children, at least I can rest easy knowing that the decision that they made is a completely informed one.