Perspectives of Public Health Nurses on the Ethics of Mandated Vaccine Education

Nursing Outlook 68 (1):62-72 (2020)

Mark Christopher Navin
Oakland University
Michael J. Deem
University of Pittsburgh
Background Since 2015, Michigan has required parents who request nonmedical exemptions (NMEs) from school or daycare immunization mandates to receive education from local public health staff (usually nurses). This is unlike most other US states that have implemented mandatory immunization counseling, which require physicians to document immunization education, or which provide online instruction. Purpose To attend to the activity and dispositions of the public health staff who provide “waiver education”. Method This study reports results of focus group interviews with 39 of Michigan's vaccine waiver educators (37 nurses), conducted during 2016 and 2017, and analyzed in 2018. Findings Four themes emerged from analysis of the transcripts of these interviews: Participants had (1) complex and nuanced observations and evaluations of parents' judgments and feelings about vaccines and vaccine education; (2) sympathetic attitudes about alternative vaccine schedules; (3) critical and supportive evaluations of institutional policies and the background political context of immunization education; and (4) consistent commitments to respect parents, affirm their values, and protect their rights. Discussion These results show that public health nurses are sensitive to the burdens mandatory immunization education places on families, the motivations for parents' requests for nonmedical exemptions, and the values implicated by personal immunization decisions and government immunization policies. In light of the unique training, experiences, and public reputation of nurses, there is good reason for additional investigation into the roles that nurses can play in immunization education and in vaccine mandate policies, more generally.
Keywords vaccine mandates  immunization
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