Are health professionals equipped to discuss vaccination?

Editorial Board

Editorial Board

November 5th, 2012

Editorial Board

‘Most children are vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, polio and diphtheria, usually after consulting their healthcare provider.

EuBut what do doctors, nurses and midwives do when parents have questions about vaccination? Are they equipped to discuss complex issues with parents who have often done their own online research and still have concerns they would like addressed?

This was one of the key issues discussed by experts at an EU conference on childhood immunisation in Luxembourg which looked at how Europe can wipe out diseases such as measles and rubella.

Last year there were 30,000 measles cases in Europe. 85% of those infected had not been vaccinated.

The Luxembourg conference followed last year’s agreement by EU health ministers to do more to support childhood immunisation. Ministers specifically mentioned doing more to support training for health professionals.

This training can fall into two main categories: medical/scientific and communication.

Continuous medical education may be supported through vaccinology courses such as the annual Vaccinology Summer School at Antwerp University, or the recent course on paediatric illnesses held in Vilnius University. These update health professionals’ knowledge on vaccine-preventable diseases and immunology.

if (1==1) {document.getElementById(“link12531″).style.display=”none”;} The other side of the coin is helping healthcare providers to answer parental concerns. Darina O’Flanagan, Director of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in Ireland, told the conference that this is an important aspect of supporting doctors and nurses.

“We need to improve the material we have for doctors and nurses to provide them with answers to questions they get from parents,” she said.

The WHO has published a guide for doctors in Europe on how to discuss vaccination with parents. Similar initiatives have been launched in the US and Australia.

Ulla-Karin Nurm, head of the public health development section at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said promoting health communication skills should be developed among frontline health workers and in health promotion authorities.

However, she said information alone may not be sufficient to change people’s minds. An evidenced-based approach to health communication was required, Dr Nurm suggested. This means that public health authorities should implement strategies that are proven to work.

Robb Butler, a health behaviour expert at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, agreed that “information does not predict action”. He said information should be provided in a way parents wanted and would engage with.