New frontiers in vaccine hesitancy research: a border-spanning collaboration
An exciting project is taking shape at WithinReach. After nine years of extraordinary work in the vaccine hesitancy field, Vax Northwest is embarking on a new project, and we’re doing so with new partners—
a wide range of researchers from, or interested in, the midwifery community who come from both the United States and Canada.
Midwives are a very influential group of health care providers. Midwives attend 8.3% of births in the United States , but their knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about vaccines have not been robustly studied. Likewise, we know very little about the people who seek care from the midwifery community. In our attempt to engage as many leverage points as possible in building vaccine confidence, Vax Northwest has elected to focus on the midwifery community.
On January 10th, more than 20 researchers and practitioners from the fields of midwifery, naturopathy, allopathic medicine, public health, pediatrics, and anthropology, among others, came together at WithinReach to define a research agenda related to midwives (and other perinatal providers to a lesser extent). We had a rich and varied conversation that culminated in three research questions that Vax Northwest and our partners will address going forward:
- 1) What are the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of midwives toward vaccines? (Are they advocates of vaccines?
Do they want to be advocates of vaccines? What support is needed to become better vaccine advocates?)
2) What are the characteristics of people who seek midwifery care? (Are they more likely to be vaccine hesitant? Are they dissatisfied with ‘traditional’ medicine?)
3) What is the vaccination status of children in Washington, by the type of provider who attended their birth (midwife, physician, etc.)? Is there an association between provider type and immunization status?
“As an observer, it was a fascinating experience to listen to experts in various fields discuss current information and determine what new information is needed before deciding on specific research questions. Since the influence of the midwifery community on the decision to vaccinate children has not been studied, it will be exciting to see how these new research questions will help us better understand vaccine hesitancy” noted Cristina Cardenas, a WithinReach AmeriCorps service member, who participated in the meeting and has a special interest in immunizations.
Making policy, decisions, or interventions based off anecdotal evidence can be ineffective, or even worse, backfire. That’s why Vax Northwest has such a strong focus on creating a research foundation before we act. After several years of sharing the informative and well-received results of our previous research, we’re excited to be breaking new ground with this project and adding to the vaccine hesitancy research base. As always, we’ll do so in collaboration with the right partners with the goal of keeping all Washington families thriving and healthy.
Stay tuned for more updates!
Top Ten Ways to Be A Positive Voice For Vaccines!
3. Get up to date on your own vaccines. Check if you are up to date in MyIR. Haven’t used MyIR yet? Sign up by visiting the Washington State Department of Health’s website and choose Option 1. Once you are in the system, you can print off your recommended immunizations and bring them to your healthcare provider or pharmacist. While you’re at it, check to make sure your kids and your family members are up to date as well.
4. Share your immunization story. Why are you passionate about vaccines? Whether you’ve personally experienced a vaccine preventable disease, or someone you love has been impacted, sharing your story with us to use on our website and social media is a powerful way to be an advocate. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
6. Advocate for immunizations to friends and family. Vaccines aren’t a “taboo” topic – they’re an important part of preventive health. Have the courage to ask family members if they’re up to date on their vaccines, if they got their annual flu vaccine, or if they’re planning to immunize their newborn. And remember, most people fully vaccinate on time. Here’s a great article on how to approach the subject using the HEART method for talking about immunization with friends.
7. Become a member of the Immunization Action Coalition of Washington (IACW). The IACW meets quarterly to learn about and collaborate on a variety of immunization topics. Recent topics have included: HPV prevention, vaccine hesitancy, and global health initiatives. Additionally, there is a monthly newsletter with hot topics, resources, and news articles to keep you up-to-date! To learn more and become a member, email: email@example.com.
8. Take action. Your help in promoting vaccines in Washington State will help keep our community healthy and decrease the transmission of vaccine-preventable diseases. Sign up for our Immunization Action Alert to be notified when you can lend your voice to advocating for immunizations in Washington.
9. Write a letter to the editor. Let your pro-vaccine stance be known to your community and elected officials. Contact us if you need help with any ideas or templates.
10. Thank an Immunizer. Next time you are at your healthcare provider’s office or the pharmacy, thank an immunizer. These are the people that protect health by vaccinating, and people often forget to thank someone holding a needle!
Growing the Immunity Community
WithinReach is excited to announce that the Immunity Community (IC) is growing! We are thrilled to expand the IC into Snohomish, Kitsap and Thurston Counties for the 2015 – 2016 school year thanks to generous support from the Group Health Foundation. We will continue our work in Bellingham and Spokane, building on the successful partnerships established over the last few years. A program of Vax Northwest, the IC is a proven community engagement campaign where parents who value immunization confidently speak in support of immunization in their communities. The program seeks to reduce vaccine hesitancy by mobilizing parents to have positive conversations about immunizations with other parents through a variety of activities, reinforcing vaccination as a social norm.
Immunity Community Parent Advocates (PAs) are volunteers connected to sites such as elementary schools, childcare centers, and preschools. Each fall a “Launch Meeting” kicks off the beginning of the IC program; PAs are trained to talk about vaccines, and brainstorm pro-vaccine actions they can take in their communities. Local health department staff also participate by presenting on current vaccine topics. Support continues throughout the school year with PAs receiving ongoing technical assistance, including monthly newsletters, flyers, postcards, shareable social media images and giveaways for events, among many other resources. PAs use multiple strategies to raise awareness and educate parents at their sites and in their communities, including social media advocacy, hosting events, distributing immunization-related materials, engaging in one-on-one conversations, and working to calculate and publicize site immunization rates. PAs share their stories about deciding to vaccinate their children and tailor their immunization advocacy to what works best for them and their communities.
Rigorous evaluation by the Group Health Research Institute’s Center for Community Health and Evaluation has shown this parent-to-parent campaign to be successful. Specifically, the IC has:
- Trained parent volunteers to be effective immunization advocates in their communities
- Raised awareness of vaccine-related issues in the focus area communities
- Increased support for vaccination among parents surveyed in focus area communities
- Facilitated a preschool policy change that has statewide impact
We are excited to continue the IC in Bellingham and Spokane and expand into Snohomish, Kitsap and Thurston Counties this fall because of the support from Group Health Foundation. The IC is part of a multi-faceted approach to health that WithinReach undertakes with its partners to promote a healthy Washington, and we look forward to continuing this outstanding body of work.
Giving Kids a Shot@Life in Washington, D.C.
Tags: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Capitol Hill immunization advocacy. Measles Pneumonia polio Representative Dave Reichert Representative Derek Kilmer Representative Jim McDermott rotavirus Senator Patty Murray Shot@Life United Nations United Nations Foundation vaccines Vax Northwest Washington D.C.
Have a HEART When You Talk About Vaccines
Vaccines are important, but they are not something to lose a friendship over. Don’t forget to respect your friend’s opinion, and trust that he will do the same. Here is a good phrase to help you get out of a tough conversation: “Thank you for sharing your opinions with me. I’m just glad we both care about protecting our kids’ health. Thank you for being so passionate.”
Now just smile, squeeze her arm, and divert the conversation to something you both can agree on. Remember, you might not sway your friends today, but you may have sparked a new way of thinking about vaccines. You have become an information source they can turn to with questions later.
If you want to learn more about Vax Northwest and the Immunity Community or want to become involved visit: www.vaxnorthwest.org
From Magic Mountain to Measles – Get Vaccinated to Stay Safe!
Our Immunization Team will always advocate strongly for complete, on-time vaccination to protect health. We also recognize that all parents, even those who don’t immunize, do so out of an interest for the health of their children. As such, we’ll continue to foster dialogue about why immunization should be a community priority, especially featuring the voices of parents who choose to immunize, like those enrolled in our Immunity Community program. Many thanks to those parents who are working hard to ensure that children in Washington are protected from disease!
Working to Make Vaccines Everybody’s Business
This week I attended the screening of the documentary “Everybody’s Business” with our Immunization team. This screening came after the CDC’s annual release of data about immunization practices among children under age three. The data shows that in Washington just 65% of children in this age range are fully immunized per the recommended schedule, versus a national average of 68%, and a national goal of 80%. So, we’re behind no matter what metric you use.
The documentary provided a glimpse into the real world debate about vaccination through the back drop of Vashon Island. Vashon has one of lowest immunization rates in the state of Washington. The documentary did a terrific job of laying out the struggles that families are facing. However, at the core of the debate was the sincere desire of parents to protect their children.
It raised a central question for me–where does the individual right intersect with the greater good? This is a hard debate, made harder by the fact that every Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie, Uncle is trying to make the best decision support the growth and development of their children.
At WithinReach, we know that, like everything in life, vaccines carry some risks, but not the risks the anti-vaccine movement often claims. Vaccines do not cause autism or other developmental delays, they do not contain toxins, and the so-called ‘alternative schedules’ only increase risk.
Let’s not forget, ALL of us are at increased risk of contracting vaccine preventable diseases, and even if we’re vaccinated, children who are too young to be immunized and others who are immune-compromised (people with diseases or the elderly, for instance) are particularly at risk. We’ve seen several cases of measles in the state this year; pertussis and flu are persistent problems too. These can be deadly to anyone with vulnerable health status. I remember when I was nervous about giving my 8 week old baby his immunizations and the nurse said,“We live in a port city, your child is going to be exposed to so many things, help minimize his risk, get your immunizations.”
At WithinReach, we do not think it is okay that only 65% of kids are being fully vaccinated. For years we’ve been working on ways to increase parent education and action to make sure kids get their immunizations. Over the last couple of years we’ve gotten even more serious. We’ve been working with several other key community advocates through VAX Northwest: Group Health, Seattle Children’s Hospital, the Department of Health, and BestStart Washington to launch two initiatives with the goal of making timely immunization the social norm again:
The Immunity Community mobilizes parents who value vaccines (as most do!) to increase the positive chatter about vaccines in places where their children spend time: schools, child care centers and preschools. This pilot project recognizes that parents obtain information through social networks, so immunization-positive chatter needs to be present in these conversations (typically anti-vaccine people are the only ones who make themselves heard). We’re testing this approach at many sites in the Northshore area and in the city of Bellingham.
The Let’s Talk Vaccines project recognizes that parents most often make their immunization decisions based on the advice of their child’s health care provider, but providers often go about immunization conversations the wrong way. When parents are stressed or concerned (as they often are about vaccines), they respond more strongly to empathy than they do to hard science. So, this intervention teaches physicians to lead with empathy, attentive listening, and unifying around common goals (healthy kids)—all with the goal of building trusting relationships. Once trust is firmly established, parents are more likely to listen to their physician about ANY topic, but particularly vaccines. We’ll have results from this study in early 2014.
Vax NW has raised over $1.5 million to support the projects above. And we’re not just trying these things out–they are part of a rigorous evaluation process to see if it really works. I’m super proud of this work, and to be a national leader in our efforts. As we head into flu season, I hope you are doing your part to keep Washington healthy.