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February 2019

Social media fuel fear of vaccination side effects

Fear of side effects has been found to be the main reason why parents choose not to vaccinate their children, according to a new survey by the Royal Society for Public Health.

As reported in Practice Nurse last month, uptake for the MMR vaccine in particular has fallen to around 88%, well below the WHO target of 95% needed to confer herd protection. Currently a number of European countries are experiencing large measles outbreaks, and imported infections are considered a ‘very real threat’.

Social media is blamed for spreading negative messages about vaccination, especially for parents: two out of five parents said they were often or sometimes exposed to negative messages, rising to one in two parents of children under five years.

The discredited study by Andrew Wakefield in 1998, which claimed a link between MMR vaccination and autism, continues to have a powerful influence, the RSPH says, particularly after US President Donald Trump repeated anti-vaxxer claims on Twitter. The US has seen a decline in vaccination coverage and a corresponding increase in communicable diseases for the first time in a century.

Over a quarter of people (28%) believe, incorrectly, that ‘you can have too many vaccinations’, and understanding of the concept of herd protection was low.

Uptake of the flu vaccination was negatively impacted by reports that it was ineffective. The RSPH says concerns ‘are not baseless’ but the media did not give a balanced picture of the effectiveness of the vaccine.

The RSPH is calling for increased efforts to limit health misinformation online and via social media, especially by social media platforms themselves. And the Society says responsibility of the Press to share factual information about vaccines should be enforced.

RSPH. Moving the needle. Promoting vaccination uptake across the life course, 2018