On September 12 2014, RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment organised the symposium ‘Acceptation of and communication about the National Immunisation Programme’. During this symposium, various experts discussed the results of the doctoral research conducted by Irene Harmsen of RIVM in cooperation with Maastricht University and TNO Healthy Living Leiden. The most important outcome is that from now onwards RIVM is able to listen more closely to the views on the National Immunisation Programme of the public, including parents and children’s health clinic personnel.

A monitoring system will be used in this process. A system of this kind can ensure that acceptation of the National Immunisation Programme can be monitored in order to provide a better response to information needs. “A monitoring system will help us to really and truly listen to our target group. It will enable us to gain insight into trends and changes in parents’ immunisation choices, to predict unrest in advance and take suitable measures”, according to Harmsen.

In order to discover which components should be part of the monitoring system, Harmsen investigated the factors that influence parents’ choice of whether to have their children immunised or not. She also looked at the experiences of children’s health clinic personnel with the National Immunisation Programme, and analysed online reporting during the measles outbreak of 2013.

Immunisation is a matter of course for many parents

Why do parents choose to have their children immunised or not? The answer to this question is determined to an important extent by the attitude of parents to the National Immunisation Programme. Harmsen says: “81% of parents think that their children’s immunisation within the National Immunisation Programme happens as a matter of course. This means that they can easily be influenced by negative reports. To increase these parents’ resistance to these reports, they have to be aware of the reasons for which they have chosen to have their children immunised. The right information about the advantages and disadvantages of immunisation is essential if they are to make a conscious choice. Children’s health clinic personnel play a vital role in this process.”

Training children’s health clinic personnel in effective communication

Harmsen’s research shows that children’s health clinic personnel have a positive attitude to the National Immunisation Programme. “Children’s health clinic personnel are well able to recognise different groups of parents, including those who are critical, and to speak to them. They have, however, indicated that they have a need for training in how they can communicate effectively with parents. Topics such as providing information about advantages and disadvantages and providing information on a made-to-measure basis in order to satisfy parents’ requirements should be central”, according to Harmsen.

In addition to children’s health clinic personnel, online media also influence what people think about immunisation. Social media, in particular, tend to be used to pass on information and share opinions. Harmsen: “Because the content of reports and posts on social media can be used as a gauge of public interests and concerns, these will constitute an important part of the monitoring system.”

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