Vaccines and Social Media

Believe it or not, social media isn’t all bad, not even when it comes to talking about vaccines.

Of course, social media does amplify the bad players and does seem to help scare many parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

But the anti-vaccine movement pre-dates social media. Social media simply helps a minority of folks who don’t trust vaccines become even more vocal.

Vaccines and Social Media

So that we are on the same page, do you know what folks are talking about when they mention social media?

Social media is the interactive parts of the Internet, so places like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Snapchat, Pinterest, and YouTube, etc.

What are you going to find if you go on social media and want to talk about vaccines?

It depends.

“The semantic network of positive vaccine sentiment demonstrated greater cohesiveness in discourse compared to the larger, less-connected network of negative vaccine sentiment.”

Kang et al on Semantic Network Analysis of Vaccine Sentiment in Online Social Media

It depends on who your friends are, what groups you are in, and who you follow.

“Measures of information exposure derived from Twitter explained differences in coverage that were not explained by socioeconomic factors. Vaccine coverage was lower in states where safety concerns, misinformation, and conspiracies made up higher proportions of exposures, suggesting that negative representations of vaccines in the media may reflect or influence vaccine acceptance.”

Dunn et al on Mapping information exposure on social media to explain differences in HPV vaccine coverage in the United States.

And unfortunately, that likely influences whether or not your kids are going to be vaccinated and protected.

Social media can be a strong tool to combat vaccine hesitancy too though and can help educate folks that vaccines are safe, with few risks, and necessary.

“Given the ‘viral’ rates of anti-vaccination campaign dispersion through these same media, public health departments working in tandem with community groups, clinicians, hospitals and federal officials can leverage strong coalitions to prevent and treat infectious disease in their communities.”

Warren et al on Measles, social media and surveillance in Baltimore City

It is especially important that local and state health departments learn to use social media during outbreaks to educate the public on the importance of getting vaccinated and protected and combat propaganda and new conspiracy theories that sometimes arise when they don’t put out enough information about an outbreak.

“Our results indicate that users of Twitter (OR4.41, 95%CI: 1.43-13.60) and Facebook (OR 1.66, 95%CI: 1.01-2.72) as sources of health information were more likely to be vaccinated in comparison to users who do not use Twitter or Facebook as a source of health information.”

Ahmed et al on Social media use and influenza vaccine uptake among White and African American adults.

More than a few studies have shown that social media interventions improve vaccine acceptance.

Posting a #flushotselfie on social media can help others get vaccinated and protected too.
Posting a #flushotselfie on social media can help others get vaccinated and protected too.

Unfortunately, studies have shown that it is the folks who are against vaccines that are more likely to talk to others about vaccines on social media.

“To summarize the results, mothers who generally support childhood vaccinations are less likely to engage in communicative action about the issue, including information seeking, attending, forefending, permitting, forwarding, and sharing.”

McKeever et al on Silent Majority: Childhood Vaccinations and Antecedents to Communicative Action

So what should we do?

Instead of worrying about getting Larry Cook and a few other anti-vaccine heroes off social media, let’s get more vaccine advocates on social media!

“By targeting those who are in support of childhood vaccinations with simple, fact-based information that is easy to share online, media and health organizations could create a contagion effect on social media, which could help change perceptions, attitudes, and possibly even vaccine-related behaviors, and might have implications for years to come.”

McKeever et al on Silent Majority: Childhood Vaccinations and Antecedents to Communicative Action

And not just during outbreaks of measles!

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