Lies Spread on Social Media Hamper Vaccinations

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay reporter

FRIDAY, October 30, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Foreign disinformation campaigns on social media have brought down vaccination rates, a new study reveals.

Each one-point increase in the effort to discredit vaccines is linked to an average 2% drop in annual immunization coverage globally and a 15% increase in negative tweets about immunization, the researchers said.

Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed reluctance or refusal to get vaccinated due to safety concerns as one of the top 10 threats to global health.

The proliferation of “antivaxx” messages on social media is a public health concern as vaccination is a key way out of the coronavirus pandemic, the researchers noted.

To assess the effect of using social media and foreign disinformation campaigns on vaccines, the researchers analyzed social media activity in up to 190 countries.

They also used data from national surveys on public attitudes towards immunization safety and immunization rates for the 10 most commonly reported vaccines between 2008 and 2018.

The analysis found that the prevalence of foreign disinformation activity was “very statistically and substantially significant” in predicting declining vaccination rates.

A one-point increase on a five-point disinformation scale was linked to an average annual decline of 2% in the vaccination rate and a 12% drop over the decade. The belief that vaccines are not safe was linked to the organization of resistance on social media. The more resistance is organized, the greater the conviction that vaccines are unsafe.

Foreign disinformation has increased the number of negative tweets about vaccines by 15%.

“Using social media to organize offline action is strongly associated with an increase in public belief that vaccines are not safe,” the researchers wrote.

The results suggest that tackling misinformation and misinformation is key to reversing the rise in vaccine reluctance around the world.

“These findings are particularly salient in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, given that vaccines under development will need to be rolled out globally to billions of people over the next year,” wrote the researchers.

“We urge policymakers to take the time before a COVID-19 vaccine is available for mass distribution as an opportunity for action against social media factors contributing to vaccine reluctance.”

The results were recently published online in the journal BMJ Global Health. Steven Lloyd Wilson, assistant professor of politics at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, was the lead author.

More information

To learn more about the anti-vaccine movement, visit the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: BMJ, press release, October 22, 2020

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