Since the start of the year, Clark County, Washington, has confirmed at least 65 cases of measles, the vast majority of them unvaccinated children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend all children, and any adults who do not have evidence of immunity, get vaccinated against the disease. But vaccination rates in the Pacific Northwest are among the lowest in the country. Just about 7 out of 10 of toddlers in Washington got all of their recommended vaccines in 2017.
Dr. Joel Amundson is a pediatrician who has thought a lot about how to engage with parents hesitant about vaccinating their kids. Amundson runs Dr. Joel's Clinic, a pediatric practice in Portland, and holds workshops with Boost Oregon about children's vaccines.
Amundson says he isn’t trying to convince anyone to vaccinate. Instead, he wants to help parents understand vaccines, and let them voice their questions and concerns without putting pressure on them to vaccinate.
“I stopped trying to convince people to do things and instead have tried to provide information and help them understand the background about vaccines and get answers to their questions,” Amundson told OPB’s "All Things Considered."
That hasn’t always been his approach. When Amundson first got out of residency, he says he pushed parents to get their children immunized. He saw the suffering caused by vaccine-preventable diseases.
But the push to vaccinate sometimes made matters worse.
“I found that the more I tried to convince people to do vaccines, the less effective that was and the more hard it was on the families,” Amundson said. “Being ineffective and not helpful to families, I one day decided to not do that anymore.”
Amundson instead started thinking about what he calls a “no-pressure” approach to getting vaccine information to families. And it seems to be working.
“My vaccination rates went way up,” he said of his practice after the switch, “to virtually 100 percent.”
Amundson says parents raise a range of concerns with him, from the timing of vaccines to vaccine ingredients to, occasionally, the debunked claim that vaccines cause autism. When that fear pops up, Amundson says he does more than just shoot it down.
“[I don’t just say] 'Nope, that’s not true,' and move on,” Amundson said. “I actually go through examples of how you would design that study if you wanted to know do vaccines cause autism.”
With this information-focused approach, Amundson says he thinks the vast majority of parents will choose to vaccinate. But even if a small percentage of parents don’t, Amundson says he’s OK with that. Herd immunity will be preserved.
“I think the more we push on that 1 percent, the harder they’re gonna feel like pushing back,” he said.
Hear the full conversation from OPB’s “All Things Considered” in the audio player above.