How Pharmacists Can Reason with Anti-Vaxxers

Pharmacists have likely heard parents' flawed fears that vaccines cause autism, sudden infant death syndrome, febrile seizures, and Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Pharmacists have likely heard parents’ flawed fears that vaccines cause autism, sudden infant death syndrome, febrile seizures, and Guillain-Barre syndrome.

There are lots of odd rumors floating around on the Internet about vaccines, including a fear that children will contract the disease the vaccine is supposed to prevent. Despite these rumors, almost all health care providers, the CDC, and a slew of other medical organizations agree that vaccines are the best choice for children’s health.

So, how can pharmacists get staunchly anti-vaccine patients to listen to scientific reasoning? And how can pharmacists convince them that vaccines aren’t dangerous and will help prevent life-threatening diseases in their children?

Appeal to Their Emotions

The anti-vaccine argument is based on emotion, not fact. Don’t believe me? Try stating every fact about vaccines’ safety to an anti-vaxxer.

There are libraries filled with documentation, research, and empirical evidence that vaccines have significantly decreased the incidence of diseases. Why won’t anti-vaxxers believe this plethora of evidence-based medicine?

Think about it this way: the risks of experiencing life-altering side effects caused by vaccines themselves are almost nonexistent, and the benefits of prevention win, hands down. This simple argument should convince the public, right? Something with extremely low side effects that prevents deadly diseases should be a no-brainer. Despite this simple fact, the “evidence” against vaccines validates anti-vaxxers’ beliefs.

Pharmacists need to understand that changing a patient’s mind about an emotional topic such as vaccination is nearly impossible, especially if you hardly know the patient. If the facts haven’t changed an anti-vaxxer’s mind by now, it’s naïve to think your recitation of the benefits of vaccination would make a difference.

Don’t Use Shame

Shame has become an increasingly popular social tool to “adjust” behavior. Anyone who posts a slightly offensive tweet is typically shamed on an international basis.

Such shaming often ruins reputations and wreaks havoc on a person’s life and relationships. Many people lose their jobs after posting photos or descriptions of inappropriate behavior on social media.

Even Jimmy Kimmel “shamed” the anti-vaccine movement on his show.

Shame isn’t a useful tool to change anyone’s mind. Just imagine if your boss used shame to manipulate you to change.

Keeping the conversation positive and constructive is the only chance you have to get an anti-vaxxer to listen and consider the benefits. Here are a few steps you can employ the next time you encounter anti-vaxxers:

Step 1

Try to understand their perspective. Ask them why they don’t want to vaccinate, what information they have to support their position, and where they obtained that information. Show them you understand and are sympathetic to their concerns.

Step 2

Be willing to be wrong. No matter how well you try to camouflage it, anti-vaxxers can sense an “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitude. If they sense it from you, they’ll immediately shut off and refuse to listen.

Even if you disagree, be willing to listen to what they have to say and consider their point of view. It also helps if you’re open-minded when they present their evidence. Don’t just write them off as fanatical whack jobs.

Step 3

Act like their friend by treating them kindly and respectfully. Besides, how many friends do you have who disagree with you politically, spiritually, or even financially?

Treat anti-vaxxers as you’d like to be treated if you were in their shoes. They’re extremely put off by overbearing attempts to change their minds, so skip the rapid-fire facts and opt for a more laid-back approach. By being friendly, you gain their trust and become more likely to influence them.

Step 4

If you sense potential for reasonable conversation and receptiveness, ask for permission to present the facts. Gently and kindly address their concerns about vaccination by using information from trusted health resources like the CDC to refute their evidence.

You might also consider giving them some time to review the information you presented and make a note to follow up with them later. Show them you’re interested in hearing their thoughts and are willing to make vaccination an ongoing topic of conversation.

This isn’t an argument that can be won after one conversation. Anti-vaxxers won’t suddenly say, “Maybe Jenny McCarthy doesn’t know what she’s taking about. Maybe the 300,000 physicians in America have been right all along and I should have my children vaccinated.”

After all, when was the last time you were convinced to change your political or spiritual beliefs after one conversation? At best, you can plant a seed of doubt in anti-vaxxers’ minds that might eventually sprout and cause them to change their tune, but that will be on their own terms and timeframe.