Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Vaccine hesitancy

Vaccine hesitancy: misinformation on social media

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l4457 (Published 03 July 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l4457
  1. Jack J Broadbent, fourth year medical student
  1. Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, London E1 2AD, UK
  1. j.j.broadbent{at}smd16.qmul.ac.uk

Not that long ago, infectious disease was a pervasive fear in the minds of parents. Vaccines were embraced and brought along a new age of medicine. The fear that once gripped parents is no more. Infectious diseases are out of sight and out of mind, replaced by reports on side effects and additives, which leave many wondering if all these appointments are essential.

Medical school teaches many things, but there is one lesson you will not find in your trusty Oxford handbook—people don’t share the same values. It’s easy to think that the benefits of getting plenty of exercise and not smoking are as evident to everyone as they are to us. They are not.

As the number of people hesitant to engage with vaccinations grows, the world seems to be fighting fire with fire, suggesting we ban unvaccinated children from school and make vaccination compulsory.1 People who oppose vaccination are not ignorant; they have legitimate questions but do not have access to the information they need. They have unlimited access to social media outlets that spread misinformation. Pushing these people away just makes it easier for these outlets to pull them closer.

I do not think I have ever seen something promoting the benefits of vaccination outside the healthcare setting. A poster in general practice is all well and good, but is it just preaching to the choir? Health promotion needs a booster shot; the message needs to be in the same place as the opposition. The official NHS Facebook page has between 15 and 150 “shares” per post.2 This might sound impressive but considering that half of all parents with small children have been exposed to misinformation about vaccines on social media,3 we could be doing better.

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