The UK’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has issued a report on vaccine uptake. It not only lists out the benefits of vaccines, but also highlights some of the rather blatant and quite frankly fraudulent claims that are being promoted via social media to new parents.
Let’s take a look.
Report: Moving The Needle
Social media was identified as propagating negative messages around vaccinations, especially for parents, with two in five (41%) 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%) among parents with children under five years old.
… and so they recommend …
- Efforts to limit health misinformation online and via social media should be increased, especially by social media platforms themselves.
- Responsibility of the press to share factual information about vaccines should be enforced by considering health impact when the IPSO Editor’s Code is broken.
- Education on vaccines in schools should be increased and improved, especially in the PSHE curriculum.
Further into the report they do of course expand upon it all …
… The most significant and harmful anti-vaccination influence in the UK arguably relates to the officially discredited 1998 study led by Andrew Wakefield in which he suggested a link between the Mumps, Measles and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. The study caused widespread mistrust of the vaccine, largely due to media portrayal of Wakefield as a whistle-blower. In the context of extremely low incidence of measles, mumps and rubella – ironically because of high vaccine coverage – many parents felt the ‘risks’ of vaccination outweighed the benefits. In 2003-4 just 79.9% of children were vaccinated by their second birthday against MMR, whilst rates have also fallen in Scotland and wales. We now face measles outbreaks in Europe – reaching a record high of 41,000 cases in August 2018 – directly attributable to low coverage following the Wakefield scandal …a
It’s Not all bad
Generally, the overall status in the UK is as follows …
- Attitudes to vaccines are largely positive, especially forparents of whom 91% agreed vaccines are important for their children’s health.
Their point is that we can do better and strive to reach the ideal of 95% which then gives us herd immunity. With that thought in mind the title of the report “Moving the Needle” is their effort to highlight the barriers to us getting there. It is not just about tackling misinformation and myths, they also recommend better access.
So who is spreading the fraudulent claims?
Beyond the report, which names nobody, the Guardian points out this example …
“Anti-vaxx” groups target the parents of new babies via social media, posting stories claiming babies have died or been harmed by vaccination. A US group called Stop Mandatory Vaccination, run by Larry Cook, was censured by the UK’s advertising watchdog in November over a paid-for Facebook post, after a complaint by the mother of a young baby in the UK.
“Parents, not only can any vaccine given at any age kill your child, but if this unthinkable tragedy does occur, doctors will dismiss it as ‘sudden infant death syndrome’ (Sids),” ran the post, which showed a picture of a baby with his eyes closed with his apparent name and date of birth – and death. It urged readers to join the Facebook group.
The problem is that this was an outright lie. So what happened with this ASA case?
In response to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the anti-vaxx group said it “targeted users with an interest in parenting because they intended to cause parents some concern before choosing to vaccinate their children”.
The ASA ruled that the post was misleading advertising and likely to cause fear and distress, particularly to parents seeking factual information about the risks of vaccinating their children.
But the ASA has no teeth to actually enforce this …
Cook did not comply with the ruling, the ASA told the Guardian, so it worked with Facebook to have the ad in question removed. But the regulator said its powers were limited.
“There may still be posts appearing on the Larry Cook Facebook page that would, however, fall outside our remit; the ASA can only take action to remove paid-for ads on Larry Cook’s Facebook page that encourage users towards making a financial donation to Larry Cook.”
Facebook responds with some utter bullshit …
A Facebook spokesperson said on Wednesday night: “We don’t want misleading content on Facebook and have made significant investments in recent years to stop misinformation from spreading and to promote high-quality journalism and news literacy.
No not really, they are still a cesspit that is awash with misinformation. The “Stop Mandatory Vaccination” group is still merrily pumping out fraudulent claims on FB …
“That said, we always try to strike a balance between allowing free speech and keeping people safe – which is why we don’t prevent people from saying something that is factually incorrect, particularly if they aren’t doing so intentionally.
It’s not a free speech issue. FB are a private organisation and can shutdown anybody they like for no reason at all. What they are allowing is not “Free Speech” but instead is outright fraudulent claims that endanger human lives.
“However we do take steps to ensure this kind of content is demoted in people’s news feeds to give it less chance of being seen and spread and – ultimately – to discourage those posting it.”
That is really not going to cut it. They have an ethical responsibility and they have totally and completely failed.
- The RSPH report – Moving The Needle
- The Guardian article (24 Jan 2019): Half of new parents shown anti-vaccine misinformation on social media – report
- ASA Ruling on Larry Cook t/a Stop Mandatory Vaccination
- The Wikipedia page on Vaccine controversies
- Previous postings from this website …
- Jan 2019 – What are the top 10 Health Threats for 2019 (Anti-Vaccine is No.8)
- Dec 2018 – The Italian Twitter war against anti-vaxers
- Dec 2017 – Anti-vaccine rates may finally be declining
- Sep 2017 – The Impact of vaccines is profound – they really do work
- Jan 2017 – Why is the reemergence Andrew Wakefield dangerous? – #vaccines