Dr Mihai Craiu, paediatrician, Bucharest, Romania
For the past 25 years, Dr Mihai Craiu has been working as a paediatrician in the emergency ward of the National Institute for Mother and Child Care in Bucharest, Romania. He sees communication about vaccination as a crucial part of every child’s and parent’s visit to the clinic: “I very soon realized that we shouldn’t speak about immunization as a separate topic, but rather stress the strong link to other forms of disease prevention, such as nutrition and physical activity,” he says.
Dr Craiu has observed that parents are more open to vaccinating when they see it as a fundamental part of maintaining their child’s good health and well-being.
Empowering parents to make evidence-informed decisions
The importance of embedding immunization in the overall discussion on protecting health, as well as parents’ struggles to find evidence-based sources of information online, prompted Dr Craiu to create his own Facebook page dedicated to this topic.
“Spitalul Virtual de Copii” provides parents and fellow health-care professionals with a platform for discussing children’s health topics, most prominently vaccination, by drawing on evidence-based information from reputable sources.
“Engaging on Facebook empowers many parents to serve as an advocate for their babies’ and children’s good health,” he notes. “My role is to provide the right answers to their questions based on medical facts to help them make the right decisions. It is very easy to spread rumours, unfortunately. I therefore also strive to convey to my audience how to look for reputable sources and to not be swayed by misinformation and rumours.”
As advocates for evidence-based information on immunization, some of his followers have already created their own dedicated social media pages. Dr Craiu explains: “With rising vaccine hesitancy, I am particularly happy to see younger colleagues and parents join my initiative. Together we can have more impact.”
Reaching thousands by responding to one
“Spitalul Virtual de Copii” helps Dr Craiu amplify his voice: “The enormous advantage of answering one parent’s concern on Facebook is that many more people with similar concerns read the thread. My Facebook page now has more than 100 000 followers. This gives me an opportunity to reach many more people than I ever could at the clinic.”
Dr Craiu stresses the importance of dedicating time and effort to talk to every parent regarding the benefits of vaccination – not only for their own child, but also as a social responsibility to help protect those who cannot be vaccinated. He spends 3–4 hours daily feeding his blog with updated information on immunization and discussion points, most prominently on measles and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
Most parents support immunization
As he works in the field of emergency care, Dr Craiu says that “most children I see who are not vaccinated are so-called complicated cases. The reasons for this are complex: some cannot be vaccinated due to severe illness or immunodeficiency, others have been referred to me to confirm a temporary or permanent contraindication, and others because parents refuse vaccination.”
Dr Craiu stresses that only a small number of parents refuse to vaccinate their children, particularly after an in-depth conversation highlighting the risks of contracting a life-threatening, vaccine-preventable disease. True contraindications, particularly permanent ones, are very rare and most children referred to him do get vaccinated.
Inspiration to reassure parents
Inspiration for this online engagement comes from his daily conversations with parents and the many, sometimes severe cases of measles and other preventable diseases Dr Craiu has treated.
“Most parents who comment on my posts want to be sure they do the right thing for their child,” says Dr Craiu. “The fact that some of my posts have been viewed by more than half a million people simply shows the interest in this topic. It is therefore my wish, but also my responsibility, to reach as many people as possible through this platform and make them advocates for evidence-based information.”
According to Dr Craiu, providing families and health-care workers with reputable sources and key messages on immunization gives them an essential tool to counter misinformation and a voice to help spread the facts.