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The anti-vaccination (“anti-vaxx”) movement is a global phenomenon that has received a great deal of press, but how much do we really know about it? How do educated adults come to turn against medicines that have been saving literally millions of lives since the early days of smallpox inoculations?
One partial explanation is offered by health policy reporter Stuart Lyman. In a February column for STAT, he writes, “The [pharmaceutical] industry has been engaging in bad behavior for several decades, and these self-inflicted wounds have turned much of the public against it…” After reciting a horrifying litany of pharma-company scandals the public has witnessed, he concludes, “All of this has contributed to the prominent anti-pharma themes voiced by the anti-vaxx crowd.”
Anti-Vaxx is No Longer In Its Infancy
But “the anti-vaxx crowd” shows no signs of giving up their crusade anytime soon. From their original focus on parents of autistic children, they have proceeded to target orthodox Jewish communities and recently bereaved parents. Perhaps the most influential US group behind anti-vaccine campaigns is ICAN (Informed Consent Action Network). According to the Washington Post, ICAN, founded by former daytime television producer Del Bigtree, is largely funded by New York city philanthropists Bernard and Lisa Seltz, who have contributed $3 million since joining in 2012.
Lisa Seltz now serves as ICAN president, and continues to fund the organization’s message that the government and “Big Pharma” are colluding in a massive coverup regarding the hidden dangers of vaccines. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, a nephew of the late president, runs Children’s Health Defense, his own anti-vaxx organization, and another flush-with-cash group, The National Vaccine Information Center, is run by Barbara Loe Fisher (who claims her son’s learning disabilities were the result of a 1980 DPT shot that was followed by “convulsion, collapse and brain inflammation within hours”).
Some Quick Tips from NSO’s Georgia Reiner
Considering that these wealthy and powerful organizations are finding fertile ground in today’s conspiracy-minded culture, DailyNurse interviewed Georgia Reiner, a risk specialist for Nurses Service Organization (NSO), to request a few tips for nurses who find themselves confronted by this strange controversy.
DailyNurse: What are the actual dangers posed by the anti-vaxx movement?
GR: It is important to state up front that the vast majority of people do vaccinate. However, the anti-vaccination movement has gained a lot of attention and helped foment outbreaks of largely preventable diseases that can be deadly. The anti-vaxx movement spreads misinformation and conspiracy theories online on social media, and by word-of-mouth in tight-knit, culturally isolated communities.
Anti-vaxx propagandists have helped to create pockets of unvaccinated people, which have contributed to public health issues like the measles outbreak seen recently in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey. These outbreaks of highly contagious diseases such as measles put vulnerable people, including newborn babies and people who have weakened immune systems, at great risk.
Outbreaks also distract and divert resources from other important public health issues, and cost state and local governments millions of dollars to contain. However, nurses are in an ideal position to counter this messaging.
DN: What are nurses doing to counter the anti-vaccination movement?
GR: Nurses are a trusted source of credible information and can have tremendous influence over the decision to vaccinate. This is true even for parents who are vaccine-hesitant. Working on healthcare’s front lines, nurses can help inform families about vaccinations and the role they play in keeping their children healthy and stopping the spread of disease. Nurses can also learn about questions parents may ask about vaccines, and how to effectively address common concerns.
DN: How can nurses cope with anti-vaxx parents?
GR: First, nurses should assume that parents will vaccinate. Research has shown that when healthcare providers use presumptive language, significantly more parents accept vaccines for their child. Then, if parents are still hesitant or express concerns, nurses should work with the treating practitioner to convey the importance of vaccines.
Nurses should listen to parents’ concerns, work to understand why they are questioning the science, and respond respectfully. Provide parents with information about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases, both verbally and in writing. Document parents’ questions and concerns.
If parents still decline to vaccinate, the parents should sign a Refusal to Vaccinate form. Parents should sign a new form each time a vaccine is refused so there is a record in the child’s medical file. To minimize potential legal exposure, nurses should document all discussions, actions taken, and educational material provided.
For further information, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics site document “Countering Vaccine Hesitancy.”
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