In just the first six months of this year, the number of measles cases had already reached a 27-year high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year's outbreak is the largest in the U.S. since the disease was virtually eliminated in 2000.
In fact, if New York's measles epidemic continues into the fall, the U.S. will likely lose its designation as a country that has eliminated measles. Like many of my nursing colleagues, I've been wondering how we can make a difference in a time of misinformation that is leading to outbreaks of diseases that were once considered a thing of the past. It's time for all healthcare professionals, especially nurses, to begin more actively educating patients about the vital importance of vaccines.
Now more than ever, nurses have a responsibility to protect public health. We are on the front lines with patients and their families and often spend a great deal of time with them. Every visit is an opportunity to open the lines of communication.
It's our responsibility to make sure every patient has accurate information about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. This is especially important for new parents, who need to know the recommended schedule for receiving vaccinations in order to keep their child safe. It also means encouraging patients to express concerns and ask questions, at every appointment, every time, and without judgment.
All of this is a tall order given the amount of misinformation being circulated by anti-vaccination groups across the internet and religious communities that may not have access to credible resources. Earlier this year and in recent months, many social media companies have taken a firm stand and are cracking down on anti-vaccination misinformation. While this is a good step, there is more work to be done. The value of face-to-face interactions with patients is immeasurable. Nurses hold a crucial role as communicators and should ask questions instead of waiting for patients to ask theirs, especially when it comes to vaccines.
The nursing profession remains the most trusted. We work hard to earn and maintain that honor. Nurses enter the field because we truly care about people and want to help patients and their families through some of the most difficult times in their lives. Because of this, our patients trust us to provide the best evidence-based recommendations.
Nurses are often the ones administering vaccines, giving us a unique and intimate role in patient education. We are responsible for answering questions and above all, providing accurate information regarding the safety of vaccinations. These conversations can't be left exclusively to physicians, an all-too-common default. When we fail to encourage the entire care team to engage, we're missing not only good opportunities; sometimes, we're missing patients altogether. A growing portion of patients rely on nurse practitioners as their sole primary-care providers. This is a group we can't afford to ignore. Nurses and nurse practitioners have an important role to play, and they deserve an invitation to engage on the issue of vaccination.
While we may not persuade all of our patients to get vaccinated, we can and we must do our part to spread truth about the importance of protecting ourselves and our children from disease and counteract misinformation. Every patient we vaccinate is a step toward stopping the spread of diseases we thought were left behind.
Think about the ways in which your entire care team interacts with patients—especially those who are not vaccinated. Consider maximizing the value of every patient-provider relationship, not just those with physicians, to begin a candid dialogue about vaccines. By taking the lead in initiating a conversation using motivational interviewing techniques, a nurse or nurse practitioner could open the door to vaccine concerns that a patient is too afraid or embarrassed to raise with a physician, creating opportunities for education and dialogue. And with persistence—maybe it's not the first appointment but the fourth—we might just change their view in support of vaccinations.