Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Vaccines and Social Media

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have far-reaching positive and negative effects on people’s lives. The influence of social media has extended to vaccines.

Dr. Emily Brunson, formerly of Texas State University in San Marcos, conducted a study that found parents make decisions about whether to vaccinate fully, vaccinate over a period of time or not to vaccinate their children at all based on their social networks. Pediatrics magazine published the results of the study.

Of the first-time parents surveyed, 126 conformed to vaccination recommendations while 70 didn’t. Twenty-eight of the seventy delayed vaccines, while thirty-seven partially vaccinated and five didn’t vaccinate at all. 95% of all participants surveyed stated that they got their advice from people they go to for information.

Parents who conformed to guidelines were more likely to get their information from friends, family, and healthcare providers. “Having those conversations with your sister, your parent, with your friends matter a lot more than we thought. If we want to improve vaccination rates, communication needs to be directed to the public at large,” Brunson says.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin conducted research on vaccine-related Twitter posts. 9,510 vaccination-related tweets during one week in January 2012 were analyzed and found to be mostly positive and reliable. The American Journal of Infection Control published the results of the study.

The original tweets were narrowed down to 2,580 that had been re-posted or shared. Of this smaller sample of tweets, 33 percent had a positive tone about vaccines, 54 percent were neutral and 13 percent were negative. 14 percent of the tweets contained medical information, and 66 percent of those were backed by scientific research.

Tweets covered many vaccine topics including: a potential children’s malaria vaccine, development of the NeuVax E-75 vaccine for breast cancer, the effectiveness of a herpes vaccine in women, a blog post discrediting the link between vaccines and autism, and many other topics.

Sources shared through twitter included: health specific sites like WebMD, national media like The New York Times, and medical organizations like American Medical Association. News and health organizations received more positive attention than political or advocacy groups.

Authors at The University of Texas stated: “In this sample, it appears that Twitter users share mostly reputable information and sources while actively mobilizing others to seek reliable health information. Results of the snapshot can help explain what social media content parents consume and respond to, as well as help determine directions for educational campaigns.”

While social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can be a great place to learn new information, it’s important to remember that your social network may not be providing you with all of the information you need. Vaccine Watch urges readers to consider a diversity of opinions and note the sources of information. It’s also important to maintain your general practitioner or child’s pediatrician as one of your sources.

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