How to Politely Ask People About Their Vaccinations

Tips for parents nervous about discussing vaccines.

ByGillian Mohney
February 03, 2015, 2:01 PM

— -- The measles outbreak has some parents of young children wondering how to ask whether people around their family have been vaccinated against the contagious disease.

The question is particularly important to parents of children who have weakened immune systems or infants too young to be vaccinated.

Dr. Nelson Branco, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and pediatrician in Marin County, California, said he advises parents to treat the question the way they might approach the question of smoking or whether a family keeps a gun in the home.

“I think it needs to be that same sentiment: ‘I’m being nonjudgmental. I’m simply trying to protect my children,’” Branco said of one way parents can approach it.

While vaccination rates for measles nationally remains high, pockets of unvaccinated people and children have helped lead to recent outbreaks of the virus that was declared eliminated by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in 2000.

Measles is considered one of the most contagious viruses in existence and will infect 90 percent of susceptible people if they are exposed. The CDC recommends people be given two does of the MMR (Measles Mumps Rubella) vaccine to protect them against the virus.

After one shot a person has 95 percent protection, and after two shots they have 99 percent protection.

Karen Ernst, the director of nonprofit Voices for Vaccines, said she has been inundated by emails from new parents across the country asking her how to bring up the subject of vaccines with family and friends but not cause a rift.

Ernst advises new parents to keep the conversation light and to be straightforward. For those with an infant too young to be vaccinated, Earnst said it’s important for parents to be direct.

“We do have to say, ‘I’m protecting this new baby and this isn’t about making you feel bad, but I need to make sure that you have your [vaccines,]’” Ernst said.

Ernst said a pregnant woman can email or call family members the day she receives a pertussis or whooping cough shot in her last trimester.

“You should take time to either write an email or make a phone call to say, ‘Today I got a pertussis vaccine because babies are so susceptible to this disease,’” said Ernst, who said parents can gently remind family members they will not be allowed near the infant if they aren't up to date on their vaccinations.

Dr. Claudia Hoyen, medical director of infection control at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland, advises just plain honesty when bringing up the subject.

“Just be honest with people and say, ‘We’re worried. I’m trying to cocoon my kids,’” Hoyen said, citing this latest measles outbreak. “Again, when you get in people’s face, it never works.”

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