London: Negative messages about vaccines propagated on the social media are acting as the main barrier to vaccinations, a report from the UK-based charity Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has revealed.
The report, titled “Moving the Needle”, identified two in five (41 per cent) parents, saying they are often or sometimes exposed to negative messages about vaccines on social media.
This increased to as many as one in two (50 per cent) among parents with children under five years old.
Traditional media, on the other hand, continued to be influential and was highlighted by healthcare professionals as impacting the public’s views on vaccines.
The fear of side effects of vaccines was found to be the primary reason for choosing not to vaccinate, while lack of confidence in the effectiveness of the vaccine was the key reason for parents choosing not to vaccinate their children against flu, the report said.
“Fear and misinformation about vaccines can cause significant damage to seemingly stable vaccination programmes,” said RSPH Chief Executive Shirley Cramer.
“With the dawn of social media, information – and misinformation – about vaccines can spread further and faster than ever before and this may, unfortunately, be advantageous for anti-vaccination groups,” Cramer added.
The report also called for social media platforms and the press to do more to combat “fake news” as millions of lives have been saved through vaccination, and side effects are rare.
It suggested that efforts to limit health misinformation online and via social media should be increased, especially by social media platforms themselves.
Education on vaccines in schools should be increased and improved.
Access to vaccinations must be improved and it should be offered in a more diverse range of locations, including high street pop-ups, utilising the wider public health workforce.
The report is based on the findings of surveys of nearly 5,000 people across the UK on their awareness and attitudes towards vaccines, such as MMR, the flu jab and HPV.
They include 2,600 parents, 2,000 other adults and more than 200 healthcare professionals, such as nurses, pharmacists and general practitioners.