The Internet has the ability to educate and inform people on many issues in a short period of time. Unfortunately, the same tools that can promote education can also be misused and spread fear and lies. The anti-vaccine movement uses the Internet to spread fear and distrust of vaccines in people.
One startling group is Nurses Against Mandatory Vaccines. Their Facebook page has over 4,000 likes and is regularly updated with posts promoting people to speak out against mandatory vaccines and sharing negative vaccine stories. They sold t-shirts on their Facebook page to raise money to file for 501(c)3 non-profit status. Their website is scheduled to premier this Friday.
It’s important to note that while this group of nurses is particularly vocal, they represent a minority. A study conducted in April on healthcare personnel found that 92% of physicians said they had gotten a flu vaccine, 89% of pharmacists did, 88.5% of nurse practitioners/physician assistants were vaccinated and 84.8% of nurses as well. Unfortunately, the groups that vaccinate are not the most vocal.
Susan Rowher wrote a blog post for the Los Angeles Times stating that it’s time for doctors to take a stand. A recent study published by the Journal of Pediatrics found that how doctors phrase vaccine questions sway hesitant parents. In general, the study found that when doctors told parents it was time to vaccinate and answered questions; there was a higher vaccine rate versus when they asked what parents wanted to do about vaccines.
Rowher encourages doctors to answer parents’ questions, noting that parents are swamped with information and a barrage of choices for their children. She also notes that parents will meet opposition to vaccines in many locations – from the Internet to a playgroup. However, with outbreaks of whooping cough and measles being linked to vaccine refusals, it’s time for a new approach.
“Doctors and health professionals need to take a stand in the fight against the anti-vaccination movement by taking back some of their expertise,” Rowher notes. “The abundance of information available online has instilled a sense that we are all experts just by Googling. But let us not forget that a search session on a Web browser cannot replace the years of training and research that come with scientific and medical expertise.”
Veronica McNally, a parent from Michigan is encouraging others to vaccinate their children after she and her husband lost their twelve-week old daughter Francesca to whooping cough. “Some states have seen between a 500% to 1,000% increase in this disease and what is alarming about it, additionally, is that it’s often misdiagnosed and under diagnosed,” McNally states. The Franny Strong Foundation offers information for both parents and health care professionals.
Another mother had all three of her children come down with whooping cough and found out how terrible it really is. She learned first hand why it is called the 100-day cough. She blogs about the guilt of having her children become ill because she and her husband chose not to vaccinate them, and of watching her youngest son vomit multiple times per day.
Vaccine Watch encourages all of those who vaccinate to talk with friends and family about why they chose vaccines. Those who are hesitant about vaccines should speak with their doctor about their concerns. While the Internet is useful for many things, it does not replace the years of medical experience and education doctors have.