This week I caught up with a former residency mate practicing pediatrics in small town Oklahoma. We talked about this and that. Among the challenges we discussed was the issue of vaccine hesitancy. He shared with me the story of a young mother insistent on a delayed vaccine schedule for her child. Later in the visit it became evident that the parents maintain a secure selection of firearms in their home.
Vaccines and firearms. Since hearing the story I’ve been preoccupied with the contrast.
It’s interesting to think what constitutes a threat to a young parent. For some, the weapons in this story are appalling. For others vaccine-preventable disease is seen as the real threat to this child and others in her community.
I’ve found parents worry most about what they don’t understand. For many families in rural America, firearms have been part of the landscape for generations. Responsible use and respect for weapon safety are clearly understood. They’re comfortable with what they know. For this mom the real threat to her child centered on something she didn’t understand: the perceived association between immunization and autism. Bad journalism propagating bad science is all she’s known. The subtleties of epidemiology can be very hard for a busy mom to grip.
Pediatricians use anticipatory guidance to steer parents in the right direction depending upon a child’s age and development. Firearm safety and evidence-based information on vaccine safety are part of this. Good information keeps children safe.
As the mainstream media, thinking parents and the world make the move from the vaccine-autism connection I suspect that we as pediatricians will be free to focus on what parents really need to know to keep their children safe.
It’s all about what you understand.