Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Conversations With Those Who Are Vaccine-Hesitant


Talking about vaccines with patients can sometimes feel challenging. Extending empathy, sharing your own story, and being honest about potential side effects can be helpful. 

“And she’s overdue for several vaccines . . ..” I tried to hide the strain in my voice. As a new pediatrician, I dreaded conversations with parents who were vaccine-hesitant, feeling defeated even before the discussion started. However, I’ve since learned that empathy and being forthcoming of nuances in our recommendations can go a long way in difficult conversations, including on vaccinations.  


1. Explain why we vaccinate.  

Though “vaccine” has become standard vernacular, families may not understand why they are recommended. Review why younger children are at higher risk. When recommending vaccines, rather than describing them as “15-month vaccines,” or “DTaP and HiB,” explain what diseases they protect against.


2. Share your experience.  

Anecdotes are powerful. Families who are hesitant to vaccinate their children often bring up vaccine complications they’ve heard of from friends, family, or on social media. These stories are certainly valid, as are yours. Reflect, what was your vaccination experience? What did you consider as you vaccinated your own children? What have you seen in your practice as complications for children who were unvaccinated?  


3. Educate yourself on common concerns.  

The most often cited reasons for vaccine refusal are religious, personal, and safety concerns. Prepare responses to common concerns. In my practice, families often question whether the number of vaccines is safe for their small infant. They’ve also expressed concerns about how the COVID vaccine was approved and about autism as a complication from the MMR vaccine. Families are often reassured to hear that the vaccine schedule has been made intentionally for young children, fascinated by the lengthy review process that vaccines undergo, and surprised to hear that the author of the autism vaccine complication study has since been discredited and revoked of his license.  


4. Be honest about the vaccine’s side effects and contraindications.  

Some feel that oversharing side effects and rare complications may deter vaccination rates. However, by being open and honest, we show that we have thoughtfully weighed the risks and benefits for their child as an individual.  


5. Continue to bring it up.  

The conversation doesn’t have to end at the end of the visit. If families are reluctant, offer them more resources that they can read through and offer to continue the discussion at the next visit. By repeatedly bringing up vaccinations, we show the importance of them. 






This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.