A worried parent is nothing new to Dr Ralph Köllges. An experienced paediatrician, he has become adept at listening to their questions – about the timing of immunisation, side effects and ingredients – and takes the time to address them directly.
‘I like to talk to parents directly about their problems and I explain vaccine safety to them, using skills and experience gained as a communication trainer, along with scientific information,’ he says.
Dr Köllges has spent six years honing his communication skills and now teaches others what he has learned. We asked what motivates him to devote so much of his time to addressing vaccination issues.
‘In my time as a paediatrician on the intensive care unit, I had to fight for young children’s lives. And too often I lost that fight against a vaccine preventable disease.’
Today, he hopes to see more children benefit from vaccination. Germany has particular issues with under-vaccination or partial vaccination, leading to preventable cases of measles, pertussis and meningitis.
His advice to colleagues is to work with parents who have become unsettled by misinformation, but not to invest time and resources on those with an ‘ideological’ objection to recommended immunisations.
‘Patients who are real anti-vaxxers and have a different ideology don’t suit me and the image of my practice. As a result, our practice is free from unvaccinated children and anti-vaxxers,’ he says. It’s a bold stance but, says Dr Köllges, it gives him time to focus on families with questions and an open mind.
‘I tell others not to waste time on anti-vaxxers – you cannot convert them, and they will only steal your precious time,’ he says. ‘You should separate from these patients as fast as possible, in the interest of an optimal time management and your personal well-being.’