How physicians should talk to anti-vaxxers

Vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and pertussis (whooping cough) are on the rise in the United States. This trend coincides with an increase in refusals to vaccinate.*

We asked over 1000 healthcare professionals on Figure 1 how to talk with parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. Here’s what they had to say:

78% - Discuss the risk of severe illness

62% - Discuss the risk to vulnerable patients

53% - Refer to evidence-based studies

51% - Discuss the science of immunization

42% - Explain the concept of herd immunity

16% - Appeal to emotion with anecdotes

How to talk to an anti-vaxxer:

1. Listen

The first rule of talking to a parent reluctant to vaccinate: Stop talking. Understanding the parent’s concerns and ensuring they are heard is crucial.

“First of all, you have to listen to what they have to say, their fears, their beliefs, without judging: they love their child and just want the best for him/her.”- Registered Nurse “Show empathy, parents are fearful” - General Practitioner

2. Know the facts, and the fictions

Read up on common concerns and be ready to discuss details the parents might be missing.

“Stand firm. Repeat the scientific evidence. Educate yourself on the anti-vax arguments and have very specific responses to any of these mistruths that patients will throw at you. Be prepared to accept that some people are as thick as 2 short planks and very selfish but will be straight back for help when their child is sick. And you will be there for them without question.” - General Practitioner “Try to explain the science behind the benefits and the risks without aggressiveness. Also present the facts of the initial anti-vax reports and why they are not reliable sources.“ - Surgeon

3. Educate

Explain herd immunity, vulnerable populations, and relevant statistics. Show what polio, measles, and diphtheria can do to a child. Here are some real-life cases shared by the physician network on Figure 1. Cases like these can be used to educate parents on potential risks of avoiding vaccination.


Rubella Case

Chicken Pox



4. Negotiate

Are there specific pain points you can minimize, perhaps with a modified schedule or different form of vaccine? Subtly underline the consequences of the decision.

“I give them the ‘walking through a firefight with no bulletproof vest’ analogy. I explain that it doesn’t mean the child will never get sick or have complications that are unforeseeable, it just means they have the best protection that can be given. It is not perfect, but none at all has been proven to be way more hazardous.” - Registered Nurse

5. Keep talking

For everyone’s health, an ongoing conversation is better than a closed door

“Leave the door open for parents to change their minds. They may revisit the immunization question at next encounter” - Neonatal Nurse

You can read more advice on the Figure 1 app here.