Researchers try doctor 'interventions' to boost childhood vax rates

Researchers in Washington are working on a novel approach to educating parents about the importance of early childhood vaccinations, but there's still work left to do.

In a 56-clinic, 6-month study, investigators from the Group Health Research Institute set out to find out whether doctors who received a 45-minute training session could have an effect on vaccine hesitancy through "interventions" with parents. Doctors at 36 clinics were encouraged to have "respectful, open dialogue" about vaccines with parents, while doctors at the other 20 primary care clinics didn't receive the training.

Both groups saw slightly decreased vaccine hesitancy, but the difference wasn't statistically significant. That could have been due to a whooping cough outbreak and local legislation requiring a doctor's note for exemption from schools' vaccination requirements, researchers said.

Dr. Nora Henrikson

"If vaccine hesitancy is really decreasing, that's potentially good news," Dr. Nora Henrikson, lead study author, said in a statement. "But we still don't understand how parents' hesitancy changes over time, and we still see outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease."

For future work, the researchers identified the possibility that a longer, higher-intensity training session would better prepare physicians to communicate the importance of vaccines with parents. Additionally, the group said that as most parents are confident about vaccines, it could be beneficial to develop a way to identify skeptical parents and allot more time to interact with them.

The intervention--called Ask, Acknowledge, and Advise--was developed and pretested by public-private partnership Vax Northwest that aims to ensure all children and communities in Washington are protected from vaccine-preventable disease.

"Doctors are the main source of vaccine information for most parents," said principal investigator Dr. David Grossman, "so they need evidence-based ways to address parental vaccine concerns."

Decreased vaccine hesitancy could lead to increased sales for vaccine makers. As Merck ($MRK) saw earlier this year, a measles outbreak in California led to increased vaccination efforts, and in turn, increased sales of the M-M-R II shot.

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