Risk Management Tools & Resources


Strategies for Communicating With Vaccine-Hesitant Parents of Pediatric Patients: Encourage and Be Prepared for Questions


Laura M. Cascella, MA, CPHRM

Vaccine hesitancy arises for various reasons, many of which are rooted in a lack of understanding about vaccines. Much like poor health literacy impedes patient comprehension of medical concepts, inadequate science literacy also is an obstacle when communicating with vaccine-hesitant parents of pediatric patients.

The author of a recent MedPage Today article about COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy explains that “even as ‘follow the science’ is a common mantra, science is often quite hard to understand. Few people understand the incredible complexities of virology, immunology, or epidemiology . . . our general population-wide comprehension of science makes it very difficult to explain the research that might alleviate anxieties among the unvaccinated.”1

With this in mind, pediatricians and other pediatric providers should encourage parents to ask questions and request clarification about immunizations, and providers should be prepared to answer parents’ questions about the safety, efficacy, and necessity of vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that parents might have specific questions related to:

  • The vaccine schedule and number of vaccinations
  • The dangers of vaccinating infants
  • Known and unknown short-term and long-term side effects of vaccines
  • The correlation between vaccines and serious conditions
  • Vaccine dosages
  • Natural immunity versus immunization2

Parents also might have specific questions in relation to the COVID-19 vaccines, particularly because of conflicting information that has circulated in the media. Parents might want to know how mRNA vaccines work, the processes used to develop the COVID-19 vaccines, which vaccine their child should get, whether vaccines can be co-administered, how to differentiate between myths and facts, as so on.

To assist in answering these questions, the CDC has developed a general resource for healthcare providers called Preparing for Vaccine Questions Parents May Ask as well as a Pediatric Healthcare Professionals COVID-19 Vaccination Toolkit. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers numerous vaccine-related resources.

Pediatric providers also should be prepared to discuss state laws related to vaccination for childcare or school entry as well as the purpose of these laws (e.g., to prevent the spread of harmful diseases among members of the same population and to protect individuals who are unvaccinated due to medical reasons or who have compromised immune systems.)

Although all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico require proof of immunization for childcare and school attendance, state laws vary as to potential medical and nonmedical exceptions to vaccination requirements.3 Providers should be prepared to answer questions parents might have about state-specific regulations and exemptions.

For more strategies on addressing vaccine hesitancy, see Communicating Effectively With Vaccine-Hesitant Parents of Pediatric Patients.


1 Leap, E. (2021, July 28). Vaccine hesitancy is complex. MedPage Today. Retrieved from https://www.medpagetoday.com/opinion/rural/93783

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, April). Preparing for vaccine questions parents may ask. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/conversations/preparing-for-parent-vaccine-questions.html

3 AAP Committee on Practice and Ambulatory Medicine, AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, AAP Committee on State Government Affairs, AAP Council on School Health, AAP Section on Administration and Practice Management. (2016). Medical versus nonmedical immunization exemptions for child care and school attendance. Pediatrics,138(3), e20162145

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