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Vaccine Hesitancy: What Public Health Professionals Should Understand

Discover the reasons behind the hesitancy, and how an online degree in public health can prepare you to keep communities healthy.

Vaccines reduce our risk of disease by working with our body’s natural defenses to develop immunity. They are an important part of public health, saving millions of lives each year by preventing diseases like polio, measles, and tetanus.1

While studies have shown that vaccines are safe and effective, many people are hesitant to receive them.2

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By understanding the reasons for this hesitancy, public health professionals, health educators, and community health workers can address barriers and offer solutions to keep overall infection rates low.

The Reasons Behind Vaccine Hesitancy

In 2019, the World Health Organization listed vaccine hesitancy—the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines—as one of the top 10 threats to world health.3 Children are especially impacted. The majority of U.S. children receive the recommended vaccinations, but the percentage of babies in the U.S. ages 19 to 35 months who haven’t received any vaccinations more than quadrupled between 2001 and 2015.4

There are four overarching categories for why parents refuse, delay, or are hesitant to vaccinate their children:5

  • Religious reasons
  • Personal beliefs or philosophical reasons
  • Safety concerns
  • A desire for more information from healthcare providers

Social media hasn’t helped. A recent study found a significant relationship between the use of social media to organize offline action and increased belief that vaccinations are unsafe.6 It also found a substantial relationship between foreign vaccine disinformation campaigns and declining vaccination coverage.

Refusing to vaccinate can contribute to outbreaks of dangerous and possibly deadly diseases. In 2019, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 1,282 cases of measles in 31 states—the greatest number of cases reported in the United States since 1992. The majority of those cases were among people who were not vaccinated.7

How Public Health Professionals Can Help

People working in public health careers play an important role in educating communities about vaccine benefits and addressing and measuring reasons for under-vaccination. Public health professionals and health educators can have a successful dialogue with families by:8

  • Taking the time to listen. Give patients and parents your full attention when discussing vaccine concerns.
  • Soliciting and welcoming questions. Ask open-ended questions and remind patients that their health is your top priority.
  • Using science and anecdotes. Be prepared to use a mix of science and personal stories to address questions.
  • Acknowledging benefits and risks. Discuss the known side effects of vaccines but reiterate the overwhelming benefits that come with them, like preventing serious diseases.

Public health professionals can also support programs to track vaccine data over time and develop strategies to increase vaccination acceptance and demand.

Choosing a Public Health Career

Ready to do and learn more? There are a number of great public health degree programs at the master’s degree level that can help you make a difference in the communities you serve. A Master of Public Health (MPH) degree can prepare you to monitor health trends, advance policy, and lead programs that protect and save lives. Among your career options: epidemiologist, occupational health and safety specialist, public health analyst, and environmental health specialist. You might also consider earning an MS in Health Education and Promotion. Public health professionals who focus their careers on educating others play a big role in preventing disease and keeping communities healthy.

Walden University’s Master of Public Health degree program, which is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), offers a global perspective on public health, enriched by the experiences of students and faculty from all over the world. Similarly, Walden’s MS in Health Education and Promotion can give you the knowledge and skills to keep communities healthy and also prepare you to sit for the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) and Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) exams.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering Master of Public Health (MPH) and MS in Health Education and Promotion degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


1Source: www.who.int/publications/10-year-review/vaccines
2Source: https://www.vaccines.gov/basics/safety
3Source: www.who.int/news-room/spotlight/ten-threats-to-global-health-in-2019
4Source: www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6740a4.htm?s_cid=mm6740a4_e
5Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4869767/
6Source: https://gh.bmj.com/content/5/10/e004206.long
7Source: www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html
8Source: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/patient-ed/conversations/downloads/talk-infants-color-office.pdf

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) Board of Councilors acted at its September 6, 2019, meeting to accredit the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at Walden University for a five-year term, based on an application for accreditation submitted on February 3, 2018. On June 5, 2020, the CEPH Board of Councilors accredited the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) program at Walden University, after reviewing an accreditation application submitted on April 21, 2020. Based on CEPH procedures and the documentation submitted, the effective accreditation date of both of these programs is February 3, 2018. CEPH is an independent agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit schools of public health and programs of public health. CEPH accreditation provides assurance that the program has been evaluated and met accepted public health profession standards in practice, research, and service. For a copy of the final self-study document and/or final accreditation report, please contact the dean of the School of Health Sciences ([email protected]).

The National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE) offers the Certified in Public Health (CPH) credential as a voluntary core credential for public health professionals. Individuals who have a bachelor’s degree and at least five subsequent years of public health work experience will be eligible to take the CPH exam. However, for individuals without these qualifications, a candidate must be a graduate of a school or program of public health accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). Walden’s MPH program’s initial CEPH accreditation date was recorded as February 3, 2018.

Students should evaluate all requirements related to national credentialing agencies and exams for the state in which he or she intends to practice. Walden makes no representations or guarantee that completion of Walden coursework or programs will permit an individual to obtain national certification. For more information about the CPH credential, students should visit www.nbphe.org.

The MS in Health Education and Promotion has been designed to reflect the Seven Areas of Responsibility for Health Educators outlined by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC) and to prepare students to sit for the national Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) and Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) exams. Walden Enrollment Specialists can provide information relating to national certification exams; however, it remains the individual’s responsibility to understand, evaluate, and comply with all requirements relating to national certification exams for the state in which he or she intends to practice. Walden makes no representations or guarantee that completion of Walden coursework or programs will permit an individual to obtain national certification. For more information about the CHES and MCHES exams, students should visit www.nchec.org.

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