Few socio-political issues are more contentious than the battle over vaccines. On one hand, doctors and health experts argue that vaccines are essential for reducing and eliminating viral-borne infectious diseases. On the other hand, a small minority is convinced that vaccines do more harm than good. Now, an in-depth review of anti-vaccine websites has found that most are loaded with false information.
While many experts have long pointed out that anti-vaccine arguments and literature is filled with false facts, this study marks the most comprehensive effort yet to fully examine the wealth of online anti-vaccine literature.
The results are pretty much damning, with health experts noting that many of the websites are filled with misinterpreted reports, patently false claims, and other serious issues.
The most frequently cited claim by anti-vaccine proponents, for example, is that vaccines are linked to autism. While autism rates do appear to be on the rise, and vaccine rates likewise have been going up over the past few decades, researchers have never found a causal link between autism and vaccines. Yet about two-thirds of anti-vaccine websites claim that vaccines can cause autism.
In order to conduct the review, the researchers used four different search engines and reviewed some 400 different websites and their content. This content was then objectively examined, and the claims were thoroughly researched.
Interestingly enough, many anti-vaccine websites actually cite scientific journals and other official literature. Problem is, most of these websites have misinterpreted the results and findings, either that or are intentionally trying to misrepresent and spin the studies.
The lead author of the study, Meghan Moran, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg’s School of Medicine put it this way,
“The biggest global takeaway is that we need to communicate to the vaccine-hesitant parent in a way that resonates with them and is sensitive to their concerns. In our review, we saw communication for things we consider healthy, such as breastfeeding, eating organic, the types of behavior public health officials want to encourage. I think we can leverage these good things and reframe our communication in a way that makes sense to those parents resisting vaccines for their children.”
This misinformation campaign comes at a time when measles, a disease that was all but eliminated in 2000 due to vaccinations, has made a dramatic comeback. In 2014, measle cases reached a 20 year high, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Besides measles, a whole host of other vaccine preventable diseases have re-emerged in recent years as a serious threat. Whooping cough, the mumps, rubella, and polio have all been making a comeback, and lack of vaccination is one of the key reasons why.