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Why pharmacists are key players in the fight against vaccine hesitancy

Community pharmacists can play a vital role in boosting childhood immunisations, says Shilpa Patel

Vaccination has been hailed as one of the biggest medical achievements in history, and childhood immunisations prevent countless deaths. However, there is a worrisome rise in vaccine hesitancy; a dangerous stance that puts public health at risk.

As esteemed professionals within the community, pharmacists have earned the trust and respect of their patrons. By actively encouraging parents to vaccinate their children, pharmacists can contribute to the overall well-being of the community, and also enhance the reputation and reliability of their pharmacy.

Read more: MPs call for greater pharmacy role in vaccine delivery amid uptake concerns

Are you ready to tackle the challenge of convincing hesitant parents to vaccinate their children? This article is here to equip you with the knowledge and confidence you need.

By understanding the importance of childhood immunisations, the reasons behind parental hesitancy, the concept of herd immunity, and debunking the myths surrounding vaccinations, you will be armed with the information necessary to make a difference. Let's bring community pharmacists together and work towards boosting those immunisation rates!

Read more: Pharmacies should do 'a lot more' vaccinations, says shadow health sec

Childhood immunisations are incredibly important, not only because they protect against potentially devastating infectious diseases, but because they play a crucial role in establishing what experts call "herd immunity".

By ensuring a large number of children are immunised against diseases, we are constructing a formidable barrier that ultimately safeguards the entire population with unwavering resilience. I recently heard from a GP I work with that the most persuasive advice he gives his patients is the idea that by vaccinating their children, they are saving others around them. It's truly remarkable how we, as community pharmacists, can come together to share this amazing truth with parents.


Vaccine hesitancy


Vaccine hesitancy is a multifaceted issue that is influenced by a range of factors. From misinformation and misconceptions to sociocultural beliefs and lack of trust, there are a whole host of issues contributing to some people’s suspicion towards vaccines. By understanding these factors and developing targeted strategies, we can promote vaccine confidence and protect public health.

Unfortunately, there has historically been a significant problem with trust when it comes to healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies, which is a major reason for vaccine hesitancy. This lack of trust can develop from a variety of reasons, such as past negative experiences, doubts about profit motives, or worries about side effects.

Historic scandals within the pharmaceutical industry, like the devastating Thalidomide tragedy, may only have added fuel to the fire of scepticism concerning vaccine safety and efficacy.

Read more: Deliver all adult vaccinations through community pharmacy, think tank urges

And in the age of social media, false information travels quickly, causing confusion and scepticism. Rumours and conspiracy theories often circulate, leading to common misunderstandings. So, it is crucial for pharmacists to supply parents with accurate facts and foster trust in the scientific community.

When it comes to the safety of childhood immunisations, it's completely normal for parents and caregivers to have concerns. Luckily, community pharmacists are equipped with the knowledge to provide reassurance and answer any questions that parents may have.

Read more: Pharmacies in England administer 33m COVID-19 jabs

Pharmacists can convey the message that childhood immunisations go through extensive testing and scientific research to ensure they are safe and effective and bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO) continuously monitor the safety of childhood vaccines even after their approval.

In addition to providing individual counselling, pharmacists can also actively participate in public health campaigns to raise awareness about childhood immunisations and debunk vaccine myths, as well as collaborating with general practice to deliver streamlined messaging.


Battling myths


Another common misconception is the belief that vaccines weaken the immune system. Quite the contrary, vaccines are specifically designed to stimulate the immune system without causing harm. They contain weakened or inactivated parts of pathogens to help the body recognise and mount a defence against potential infections.

Some individuals argue that acquiring natural immunity is superior to vaccination. While it is true that natural infection can provide immunity, it can result in severe consequences, such as hospitalisation, long-term complications – and even death.

Read more: Flu jabs: Pharmacies top 2021/22 record two months before end of season

Certain conspiracy theories claim that vaccines contain harmful additives. In reality, vaccines undergo rigorous testing and adhere to strict safety standards before being approved for use.

One of the most widespread myths is the claim that vaccines cause autism. This misconceived notion originated from a discredited study published in 1998. Countless subsequent studies involving millions of children have consistently found no link between vaccines and autism.

Sociocultural beliefs play a crucial role in shaping individuals' attitudes towards vaccines. Cultural and religious practices, historical experiences, and socioeconomic factors can all influence vaccine hesitancy. Some communities have deeply rooted beliefs or fears regarding vaccines, often influenced by historical events or religious teachings.

Read more: Pharmacist’s COVID vaccination snap wins NHS photography award

But by actively listening to parents’ concerns and providing understanding support, community pharmacists can build trust and effectively address any misconceptions.

Through addressing these myths head-on and providing evidence-based information, pharmacists can help ensure high vaccination rates, protect children, and maintain public health

As community pharmacists, we have the power to make a significant impact in improving immunisation rates and protecting the health of our communities. Together, we can spread the message and work towards a brighter and healthier future for our children.

Shilpa Patel is the lead prescribing pharmacist and a GP partner at WellBN in East Sussex

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