Mom shares experience in Immunity Community

Jessica Booth tells what it’s like to serve as a parent advocate for childhood vaccination

Jessica and Kenny Booth of Kirkland, Wash., with their daughter Adalyn and son Shane.

by Jessica Booth, mother of two, blogger, and parenting educator at Lake Washington Toddler Group

A lot of information and ideas are out there about vaccinations, and it can be a really confusing topic to try to understand. Like politics or religion, vaccinations aren’t a topic that a lot of people feel comfortable talking about with their peers. Yet being vaccinated — or not — affects more than you and your family.

My family has chosen vaccinations for a variety of reasons:

  • to protect our loved ones and community members from preventable diseases;
  • to save our children from a range of horrible diseases and death;
  • to protect future generations from diseases that have been eradicated; and
  • we believe that vaccinations are a safe option for most individuals.

In 2013 I became a parent advocate for WithinReach, a nonprofit organization coordinating the Vax Northwest program called the Immunity Community, which just reported its results. I have a BA in Education from Western Washington University and a master’s degree in school counseling. From college on, my jobs have all involved working with children from birth to elementary-school age, for instance as an elementary school counselor. Then as a parent I was really excited to get involved more in the world of vaccinations.

I had two small children at home under age five. My daughter was enrolled at the toddler group where I was a parent advocate. My son was attending a local preschool. I knew that I had a lot of questions about immunizations — and if I did, I knew my friends who were fellow parents did as well.

Advocating for childhood vaccinations

Through the Immunity Community program I learned how to put a friendly face to vaccinations. As a parent advocate I was motivated to engage my community around me. I also wanted to become more informed on immunization issues, and learn how to present immunization information to others. I wanted to be a confident voice that could provide some balance to all the anti-vaccine voices.

As a parent advocate I hung fliers with information about immunizations at our toddler group. I also held an event where a panel of doctors answered questions that parents had about health in general. Additionally, I collected data on the vaccination rate at our toddler group. I learned a lot through the program. Having a team of immunizations experts at my fingertips to help teach me and guide me as a parent advocate was a fantastic experience that I will always appreciate.

“I feel so much more confident now to share my thoughts in an effective manner to others after having been a parent advocate through the Immunity Community program.”

I know that all parents want their children to be safe, but a lot of what parents see on the internet and hear from each other makes it sound like there’s more danger from vaccines than from infectious diseases. When talking with parents who are “vaccine-hesitant,” I found that is it really important to listen to their concerns and to keep in mind that they think they are making the best decisions for their children.

Often the best way to get someone to hear your ideas on vaccinations grows from a relationship of trust and respect. A parent won’t change their mind about vaccinations in a heated conversation or after a few immunization facts are thrown at them. It takes time, trust, and a gentle way of presenting accurate information about vaccinations before a “vaccine-hesitant” parent will change their mind.

As a parent advocate, I learned to be an effective immunization advocate in my community — in a gentle way. Being a good listener to a parent who has concerns or wants more information can be the first step in having a positive conversation about immunizations. Sometimes just a smile and nod is all that a parent needs to feel more comfortable in sharing their questions or thoughts on such a hot-button topic.