Alex Olgin / WFAE
In 2017, Kim Nelson had just moved his family to his hometown in South Carolina. Boxes were still scattered around the apartment, and as her two little daughters played, Nelson flipped through a newspaper article on her phone. According to him, the religious exceptions for vaccines have jumped nearly 70% in recent years in the Greenville area – the part of the state in which she has just moved.
She remembers crying to her husband in the other room: "David, you have to come in here! I can not believe it."
So far, Nelson has not encountered friends with Mommy who did not. "It was really the eyes that it was a big problem," she says.
Nelson's father is a doctor; he had immunizations as well as his children. But this news frightened her. She knew that babies were vulnerable – they could not start with most vaccines up to 2 months of age. And some children and adults have diseases that make them unable to receive vaccines and therefore rely on immunity to the herd.
Then Nelson was thinking a lot about public health and even considering a career change – from banking to public health. She decided she had to do something.
"I really believe if you have the ability to defend, then you have to," she says. "The burden is on us if we want change." Like many mothers, Nelson had spent hours online. He knew how easy it was to crack holes in the Internet for a rabbit, a world of fake research and scary stories.
"As a person who simply can not resist the wrong things on the internet," says Nelson, "If I saw something with vaccines, I quickly took up" This is not true, "or" No, it does not work like that " … Normally I was forbidden. "
Nelson started his own group, South Carolina's parents for vaccines. She started publishing scientific articles online. She began answering personal messages from the parents concerned with specific questions.
"If someone publishes" My child has his two-month shots today, "Nelson says he'll quickly post a follow-up comment," Great job, Mom!
Nelson is inspired by peer-to-peer groups all over the country doing a similar job. National coverage groups such as Voices for Vaccines and regional groups such as Vax Northwest in Washington adopt a similar approach, encouraging parents to receive education and sharing facts about vaccines with other parents.
At national level, 91 percent of children under 3 years of age were vaccinated for measles and the percentage of other vaccinations ranged from 82 to 92 percent. But in some communities the percentage is much lower. In Clark County, Washington, where the outbreak of measles is up to 62 cases, about 76% of kindergartens come to school without all their vaccines.
Public health professionals are concerned about the need to improve the vaccination rate. But efforts to reach vaccine-hesitant parents often fail. When presented with facts about the safety of vaccines, parents often remain rooted in the decision not to vaccinate.
Pediatricians could play a role-and many of them-but they are not compensated for long discussions with parents, and some find it a frustrating task. This has left open for alternative approaches like Nelson.
Nelson thought it best to give up the mothers who were still on the vaccine fence. She explains that parents who oppose vaccination often feel so strong they will not participate in a discussion. "They feel confirmed by this choice – it's part of the community, part of their identity."
The most important thing is the time: people may need information about the vaccines before they become parents. The first pregnancy – when men and women begin to move into parenting roles – often occurs when the question arises. Nelson points out a study by the Centers for Disease Control, which shows that 90% of pregnant women have decided on vaccines up to six months of pregnancy. "They will not go to a pediatrician (still)," says Nelson. "Their obstetrician-gynecologist probably does not turn to the pediatric vaccine scheme … So where are they going? They go online ".
Nelson tries to counter bad information online with facts. But she understands the value of personal dialogue. She organizes a class in a public library and advertises the event for mom's forums. Nelson was nervous that people who oppose the vaccines she calls "anti-vaccines" may appear and cause a scene. It has already been banned from some online forums by vaccine opponents.
"They're here to tear me a new one, or are they here to learn about the vaccines?" Nelson asked. "I just decided that if I'm here, I'll give them good information.
Amy Morris was pregnant, but it was an hour and a half to attend the class. Maurice was not the typical mother for the first time Nelson was trying to reach. She already had three children. But during this pregnancy she became more and more nervous about the vaccines. Recently she had a miscarriage and at that time there was a flu shot. Maurice has read publications about pro and anti-vaccine forums in boys and has some doubts. In Nelson's class, she learned about the risks of no vaccination.
"That tells me more than anything," Morris said.
Now, holding her healthy 8-month-old son, Thorin on her lap, she says she's glad she's gone because she felt vulnerable. "I always knew this was the right thing," Morris said. "I was listening to the monster for fear in the back of my head."
Nelson says fear is what feeds the anti-vaginal community. She has learned to ask questions to help parents get the basis of her anxiety. "I think they appreciate it when you meet them sympathetically and do not just try to shoot facts in their throats," Nelson said.
Nelson is now trying to get local hospitals to integrate this vaccine into their birth classes. She teaches a Master's degree in Public Health at the University of South Carolina and also works with the Bradshaw Institution for Child Health and Advocacy. She even plans to run for public service. This story is part of the partnership of NPR with WFAE and Kaiser Health News