Lacy Waller hardly misses a chance to share her message about the importance of vaccines. She testified before Texas lawmakers about the importance of providing parents with transparent information about vaccine exemption rates at their children’s schools. She educated herself so that she could be more effective at debating vaccine doubters online. Even a trip to the supermarket is a chance to make her views known, which she does with her Immunize Texas T-shirt that bears the message “Texans Protect Texans.”
That’s quite a change for Waller, who wasn’t even aware until about six years ago that vaccines had become controversial and that increasing numbers of parents were refusing to have their children fully immunized. Working in the IT department in hospitals and other medical settings, she had always understood that vaccines were an essential part of keeping children healthy.
“I became more aware of the issue after I had my first son,” said Waller, a 39-year-old resident of Kyle and mother of boys ages 6 and 4. “I started seeing that it was one of those hot topics on parenting websites.”
She takes an empathetic approach toward vaccine-skeptical parents.
“They’re a new parent and they’re thinking, if all these people are saying something negative about vaccines, there must be something to it,” she said. In situations that seem complicated, rather than learning all the facts, it’s often easier for parents to decide that they won’t take any action – which then means their children go unprotected, and might infect other, vulnerable children.
“The parents get overwhelmed by the choice and the conflicting messages,” she said. “Even though not making a choice ends up being the same as making a decision.”
They’re seeking real answers to the things they’ve heard, and Waller tries to provide those answers.
“The most successful approach is taking people seriously,” she said. “I ask people, ‘What are your concerns, let’s take them one at a time.’ I try to be a better listener.”
She finds that most of the parents she talks to understand that vaccines don’t cause autism; they’re not falling for the fraudulent study published in Lancet by Andrew Wakefield – and later retracted -- that claimed such a connection.
Instead, parents are more likely to ask questions such as why the hepatitis B vaccine is given to newborn babies.
But as much as Waller works on being a good listener, she also thinks it’s increasingly important for vaccine-supportive parents to speak up – because vaccine doubters also have become more vocal. And she is firm about taking her children to doctors who don’t allow unvaccinated children in their practices.
“There’s been a shift in tone,” she said. “There used to be a fear of bringing up vaccines in conversations with people. It became my passion to make people aware that being outspoken is support of vaccination is OK.”
Among the people who come to her for information are those who want to persuade vaccine skeptics in their own families. They ask her for explanations they can relay in simple language, to spread the word. That’s the kind of action she actively encourages.
“The people out there who oppose vaccines can seem very frightening,” she said. “The challenge is to get vaccine supporters to be more open about their beliefs. One thing I try to do is share stories and urge others to do that.”
A surprising amount of the time, when people do that, other people will thank them. It doesn’t have to be as confrontational as people think, Waller said.
No one has responded negatively to her pro-vaccine T-shirt at the grocery. And they shower her with compliments when she wears her other vaccine T-shirt, the one proclaiming “Vaccines Cause Adults.”
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
Zack Lazar, Everyday Vaccine Hero
Carol Roach, Everyday Vaccine Hero
A Texas Vaccine Hero Stands up to Bullies