NEW YORK — It’s late on a Tuesday night during the worst measles outbreak in decades, and doctors, nurses and other health-care providers are gathered at a medical center to learn better ways of talking to parents who are reluctant to vaccinate their children.
Blima Marcus, an oncology nurse practitioner, leads the two-hour session on how to do a better job listening to and responding to parents’ questions — and, in the process, cultivating their trust. The key, she says, is hearing people’s questions about the science behind vaccines and addressing those directly.
To debunk the false claim that childhood illnesses strengthen the immune system, for instance, she said doctors can explain that the immune system is not a muscle that gets stronger with exercise.
“It’s not a great idea to deliberately expose your children to an illness any more than you would break their leg bone because you think it would grow back stronger,” she told the group at the Ezra Medical Center in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood.
Marcus, part of the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, helped form a volunteer group of health-care professionals this year to confront vaccine hesitancy and misinformation that officials blame for the measles outbreak — now in its 10th month — that is predominantly sickening Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn. Her group, the Vaccine Task Force, has written and distributed thousands of booklets to parents to counter fears and myths spread by anti-vaccination groups that have targeted the community.
Now, she and other nurses are tutoring the doctors about how to respond respectfully and effectively to such concerns.
Health officials in New York and throughout the country are increasingly trying new strategies to spread accurate information about vaccines. They are relying more on community groups instead of government agencies in an acknowledgment of a broad distrust of science and government, particularly in culturally isolated communities.
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