A Canadian mother who used to be “vaccine hesitant” is encouraging doctors to change the way they speak to parents about vaccines.
In 2015, Tara Hills’s seven unvaccinated children were diagnosed with pertussis, a highly contagious respiratory disease known colloquially as whooping cough, which can have serious health implications for young children.
At the time, the Ottawa mom was skeptical of the medical community and the science surrounding vaccines but was directed to the blog The Scientific Parent by a pro-vaccination friend who helped her learn more about the science of vaccines.
In a new interview with CBC radio show As It Happens, Hills says she had just decided to vaccinate her children when they became infected with whooping cough.
Hills began documenting her experience for the blog, and wrote her first piece while her entire family was under quarantine for five days. Although her children were being treated with antibiotics, Hill writes that her younger children’s health continued to deteriorate — and at one point, her nieces and nephews, one of whom was under a year old, had to be treated as well.
“For six years we were frozen in fear from vacccines,” Hills said three years ago, “and now we are frozen because of the disease.”
Hills explained to radio host Carol Off that initial hesitation to vaccinate her children was caused by mixed messages from the internet, and what she considers “misinformation” from her friends.
“I wasn’t hardcore anti-vaxx but I had enough concerns that I was hesitating,” Hills told the CBC. “And when you’re hearing so much conflicting noise in our age of information, the human response is to just freeze — and I did that for several years.”
Since the 2015 illness, Hills gave birth to two more children, and said that all nine of her children are now vaccinated.
Last week, Hills spoke at the Canadian Immunization Conference in Ottawa, asking doctors to alter their approach towards parents who are skeptical about vaccinating their children to be less judgmental and more understanding and informational.
“I wanted to encourage healthcare providers that they could connect positively with vaccine-hesitant parents like I was if they would make their approach more conversational and more relatable,” Hills said. “Some [doctors] are more authoritarian. ‘Do what the doctor says and don’t question this.’ Others, like my doctor, didn’t really know how to handle this and kind of just don’t even have a conversation about it.”
Hills hopes that doctors can help ease parents’ fears of vaccines using science and thoughtful discussion instead of dismissing their concerns altogether.
“I am not looking forward to any gloating or shame as this ‘defection’ from the anti-vaxx camp goes public but this ins’t a popularity contest,” Hills wrote in 2015. “Right now my family is living the consequences of misinformation and fear. I understand that families in our community may be mat at us for putting their kids at risk. I want them to know that we tried our best to protect our kids when we were are doing our best now, for everyone’s sake, by getting them up to date. We can’t take it back…but we can learn from this and help others the same way we have been helped.”