Guide for healthcare, early learning & childcare professionals

Healthcare, early learning & childcare professionals play a key role in vaccine communication. They are a trusted source of vaccine information for parents and guardians.

This page provides advice on how to talk to parents and guardians about childhood vaccines.

Understanding vaccine hesitancy

What is vaccine hesitancy and refusal?

The World Health Organisation defines vaccine hesitancy and refusal as a delay in the acceptance of vaccines or refusal of vaccines despite the availability of vaccination services. Vaccine hesitant individuals may express concern, doubt, or be indecisive about the benefits or safety of vaccines or be reluctant or refuse to be vaccinated.

Why are some people vaccine-hesitant?

People express hesitancy towards vaccines for complex reasons. Studies find that parents worry about vaccine safety and adverse effects. However, simply providing information about vaccine safety about vaccines may not be sufficient in itself. The parents we spoke to described feeling confused and fearful as they encountered conflicting claims from different sources and worried about being judged for their choices. Therefore, communication that builds rapport and trust is needed.

Understanding the reasons for vaccine hesitancy

Vaccine hesitancy is the reluctance or refusal to have oneself or one's children vaccinated despite the availability of vaccination services.

The reason for vaccine hesitancy varies across individuals, regions, cultures, and time periods. In some cases, there may be emotional, cultural, social, or political elements to vaccine hesitancy. In addition, some vaccines are accepted more readily by individuals than others.

Research suggests that the three following factors may explain vaccine hesitancy:

We describe these as the 3Cs:

  1. Complacency: The person perceives the risk of vaccine-preventable illnesses as being low. Other health or life responsibilities may be more important at that time.
  2. Confidence: The person expresses not having faith or trust in vaccines and those responsible for delivering vaccination programmes and services.
  3. Convenience: The person's ability to access vaccination programmes can be affected by geographical accessibility, understanding (language and health literacy) and how appealing the immunisation services are.

What else can influence people’s vaccine decisions?

Research suggests that several factors can influence an individual's decision to accept a vaccine or be vaccine-hesitant. Conversations we had with parents revealed these factors and included:

Additional information on vaccine hesitancy is available in the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) Report "Let's talk about protection: Vaccination guide".

Why are healthcare professionals important?

Parents consider their child's healthcare professionals to be trusted sources of vaccine information. This trust is evident even in vaccine-hesitant parents or parents who have considered delaying one or more vaccines.

In addition, healthcare professionals play a key role in establishing and maintaining a commitment to communicate about vaccines and maintaining high vaccination rates. You do this by taking time to answer parents’ questions, providing vaccine information and making sure they keep up to date with the HSE vaccine schedule and their vaccination visits. Therefore, you play a crucial role in informing and helping parents make vaccine decisions and choices.

How to approach vaccine hesitancy

For those who are vaccine-hesitant, building trust is essential through a respectful, non-judgmental approach that aims to draw out and address specific concerns.

Key points for you to remember:

How to approach vaccine refusal

For those who refuse vaccines, you should aim is to keep the consultation brief, keep the door open for further discussion and provide appropriate resources if wanted.

Key points for you to remember:

When should vaccine conversations begin?

Discussions with healthcare professionals about childhood vaccination can and should occur with new parents. However, starting the vaccine conversation is never too early. Studies have shown that the vaccine decision-making process begins for most people in the lead-up to becoming a parent. In addition, the parents we spoke to describe becoming a parent as a busy time where they can feel overwhelmed by lots of information.

Talking to parents about vaccines

Many parents have questions about their children's vaccines. Answering their questions can help parents feel confident in following the HSE childhood immunisation schedule.

For a list of common questions posed by parents and to read the answers to those questions, see our page ‘Guide for Parents about Childhood Vaccines’.

Consider the following tips and approaches for a successful discussion about vaccines:

Explaining the vaccination programme to parents in Ireland

Download and print our FREE 'Every Child Needs 5' Immunisation info poster which has been specially designed for healthcare, early learning & childcare professionals in Ireland. It explains the immunisation stage in an easy-to-explain manner. Use this with a hand gesture to explain the process to the parents

In addition to above, consider recommending that parents use the easy-to-use parent's chart on vaccination below:

Explaining Full Childhood Vaccination Schedule for Ireland

Download our FREE 'Full Childhood Immunisation Schedule for Ireland' for Parents and Professionals outlining the full childhood immunisation schedule for Ireland. It explains the number of visits and diseases vaccines protect against.

Vaccine conversation guide for healthcare workers

When we spoke to parents, they told us that healthcare professionals play an essential role in their vaccine decisions and choices. You do this by maintaining trusting relationships, listening to and discussing their questions and concerns, and providing them with vaccine information and resources. However, healthcare settings are busy, and long vaccine conversations can take time. Because of this, we designed this resource to guide you with conversational techniques and resources for discussing vaccines with parents.

Download our infographics below, on a vaccine conversation guide for healthcare workers. Alternatively, the ECDC has produced a Guide for professionals on talking with parents "Let's talk about protection"

Why are Early Learning Educators important?

The early learning educators and parents we spoke to describe developing strong and trusted relationships while children are in their care. In addition, childcare facilities are legally required to maintain immunisation records on all children attending.

Therefore, parents would discuss vaccine concerns and questions with you. You do this by listening to their concerns and directing parents toward the correct vaccine information to answer parents' questions. However, childcare settings can be busy, and conversations about vaccines can be difficult and take time. Therefore, we have provided you with a, 'Guide for Parents about Childhood Vaccines', that lists common questions posed by parents and the answers to those questions.

Download the ECDC's Guide for the professionals on talking with parents "Let's talk about protection"

The following tips and approaches should help you in discussing vaccines with parents:

Debunking false information

Parents are often exposed to false information about vaccines. In addition, they may have read or heard scary stories about vaccines from family members, friends, websites, or social media. Sometimes these involve dramatic and traumatic stories of harm to children.

According to ‘The Debunking Handbook’, you are more likely to be successful in debunking false information if you apply the following steps:

Further information & practical advice



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