A new study has revealed that during the flu season of 2018-2019, the anti-vaxxers groups on social media openly expressed their opinions on the safety of vaccines, especially towards the flu vaccine. These findings are published under the Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg.
This study is out on a crucial time when the world is battling against a pandemic. The health agencies and the official health departments are concerned over the safety levels of the public. They are trying to raise awareness regarding health care and personal responsibility to reduce the risk of coronavirus pandemic and any other disease in the future.
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But this message, mainly regarding the flu vaccinations is receiving threats by anti-vaxxers and many other misinformation campaigns. One of these conspiracy theories against the virus includes a video message which is shared on all popular social media platforms. In this video, a girl explains that the viral fear was spread online and the virus was released later in public.
Todd Wolynn is a certified pediatrician and the CEO of “Kids Plus Pediatrics”. Although he was not a part of this original study; but he has commented on it saying that misinformation on social media has the potential to raise questions on this whole perception of vaccination.
Back in 2017, a public service message on vaccination benefits and safety was released by the Wolynn’s Facebook page. However, within a few weeks, there were more than 10,000 attacks on this post and his Facebook page, mainly by the anti-vaxxers groups.
Contrary to its typical effect, Wolynn and his co-workers took these treats positive and advanced their efforts to educate people about vaccination programs. They founded a non-profit organization called “Shots Heard Round the World” to combat these anti-vaxxers groups’ agendas and misinformation on the vaccination programs.
Misinformation on the vaccine has been around for years but it has propagated during the last few years mainly because of social media. It doesn’t mean that social media is playing a negative role in circulating information however, some groups are using this digital platform to propagate their agendas. The unfortunate thing is that many people believe this information without confirming the authenticity of the source. The anti-vaxxers take advantage of it and once they get public attention, they feed them with misinformation.
Despite this happening for years, there is no evaluation of how social media handles and responds to this negative vaccination behavior.
The study by the Penn researchers went through more than 115,330 tweets about flu and flu vaccine. All of them were geo-located. It also went through the survey reports which investigated 3,005 U.S. citizens between Sep-2018 and May-2019.
They concluded that discussions on Twitter were causing a negative impact on vaccination purpose and perception. All those who have read or took a part in these discussions were least likely to receive a flu vaccination.
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This study highlights the role of social media in affecting public healthcare information and message on the flu shots. Social media can not be blamed for misconceptions about the vaccine entirely. There are many factors that play a role here, for example, location, education, awareness level, interest, etc. To determine what effects these Anti-vaxxers groups to oppose vaccines can be studied in detail with respect to independent factors in upcoming studies.
The health experts request everyone who has confusion regarding vaccination and flu vaccine safety should talk to a trusted healthcare provider.