Sample script: Talking it out with anti-vaxxers


Fear is a powerful emotion, so when clients refuse your recommendations, start with empathy.

A recent article on reported that the anti-vaccination movement and its followers, known as anti-vaxxers, which was inspired by the now-proven-false report that vaccines cause autism in children, has now spread to pets. You got it, folks-some of your clients may firmly believe that vaccines cause autism in their pets and may refuse lifesaving inoculations. (And if you're like me, you didn't need to tell you this was a thing.)

How can you promote the health and safety of your patients when their owners' decisions to refuse vaccines threaten herd health? And how do you reason with clients who insist on the harmful effects of vaccines against overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

Because many anti-vaxxer clients are driven by fear (and can't we all relate to some irrational fears?), it can be difficult or even impossible to convince them to vaccinate. However, some clients may change their minds about vaccines if you approach them in a consistent, empathetic way. If you are running up against this, here are eight tips that have helped me.

1. Don't debate about core vaccines. They are required.

2. Don't assume that clients understand how vaccines work.

3. Draw parallels to human health where applicable-for example, the recent whooping cough and measles outbreaks due to the rise in people not vaccinating their children. Educate, don't scare.

4. Encourage dialogue with your client by asking about their concerns, using phrases like, “Tell me more about … ” or “Help me understand so I can best advise you.”

5. Examine your own bedside manner-do you come off as overbearing or rigid?

6. Going hardcore? Drawing a line in the sand? Practice what you preach by firing anti-vaxxer clients.

7. Don't take it personally. Even though it feels like personal rejection of your role as wise counselor when clients refuse to follow your vaccine recommendations, it is really not about you.

8. Above all, remember that the client wants to be heard, wishes to be respected, seeks credible information, desires informed consent, and wants to be involved in decisions about their pet's healthcare.

Let's try these tips on for size. Here's an illustration of how it might all work:

You: Bella is due for her vaccines.

Client: I don't want to have Bella vaccinated today.

You: Can you tell me your main concern with vaccination?

Client: I'm just not interested.

(This is when you need to finesse this conversation a little to get the client to open up.)

You: No pressure at all. I really just want to know what your concerns are so we can do the best thing for your pet.

(Client may get squirmy or evasive.)

Client: Well, I read that vaccines can cause autism.

You: Thanks for telling me, and that's a valid concern.

(Client usually appears surprised and relieved at this point.)

You: You aren't the only person who has heard that. When I heard about the study, I researched it myself, because I was worried about my pets. What I found is that the British study that linked autism to vaccines, the one that scared all the parents, was retracted about six years ago because the study was proven false. The CDC has published a resource center that goes into great detail about the safety of vaccines if you'd like more information.

Infectious disease control represents a major part of our effort as your pet's healthcare providers. Vaccines are better studied than any other medicine we prescribe, and the manufacturers guarantee their safety and efficacy.

The vaccines we recommend are the vaccines we think your pet needs. I made sure my pet got these vaccines, and if Bella were my pet, I would be getting these vaccines for her to make sure she is as safe and healthy as she can be. Is that OK?

(Hopefully, at this point the client nods head and smiles. She might even say …)

Client: Thank you for explaining that. And not thinking I was crazy.

You: Of course. I know you want the best for your pet. You and I want the same thing. It's my job to help you with these concerns.

Result: A pet gets a vaccine and a fairy gets her wings.

Dr. Sarah Wooten graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. A member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists, Dr. Wooten divides her professional time between small animal practice in Greeley, Colorado, public speaking on associate issues, leadership, and client communication, and writing. She enjoys camping with her family, skiing, SCUBA, and participating in triathlons.

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