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Social media propagates misinformation about vaccinations

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 fear of side effects was the most common reason fear of side effects was the most common reason for choosing not to vaccinate

Social media is being used to spread incorrect information about vaccination, a report by the Royal Society for Public Health has found.

The report found that two in five parents exposed to negative messages about vaccines on social media rising to one in two among parents of under 5s. Additionally, across a range of vaccines including MMR, HPV, and flu, fear of side effects was the most common reason for choosing not to vaccinate.

‘Vaccinations are one of the most powerful tools we have for protecting and improving the public’s health, saving millions of lives every year across the globe,’ said Shirley Cramer, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health. ‘The value of vaccinations throughout life should not be underestimated. ‘

The report also found that attitudes to vaccines in general were largely positive, with 91% of parents in agreement that vaccines are important for their children’s health. Furthermore, there is a fairly low understanding of key concepts of vaccination, with over a quarter of people (28%) incorrectly believing you can have too many vaccinations. Additionally, timing, availability and location of appointments were identified as barriers to vaccination by both the public and by healthcare professionals.

‘Challenging misinformation is vital to reverse the decline in vaccination uptake and ensure people recognise the protection it offers. It’s reassuring that trust in nurses as a source of reliable information on vaccines remains high, and the RCN’s own myth-busting Beat the Flu campaign has reached more than 1.5 million people since it launched in October last year. But respected authorities need to do more to tackle misleading and dangerous narratives that put all of us at risk,’ said Helen Donovan, Professional Lead for Public Health at the Royal College of Nursing.

‘In 2017 Britain was declared free of endemic measles, with just 259 lab confirmed cases. But last year saw 913 confirmed cases of this potentially fatal yet entirely preventable disease – a three-fold increase. This has been exacerbated by myths propagated largely online. Similarly, flu vaccination coverage over the 2017/2018 season was the lowest it has been since 2011, and last year saw a serious flu outbreak. This year the rates are lower, but still a cause for concern.’

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Thank you for raising this issue. Practice Nurses should be given the time to discuss these issues at the 6 week check/8 week imms check. Many are forced to give only 10 minutes and cannot fully address these issues and reassure parents. Nurses should advise parents on looking at trusted NHS evidence based websites rather than random ones. Parents are still wary of the MMR, and it is useful for nurses to be aware of the studies done around the world to show its safety. Flu uptake for 2 and 3 year olds is very low, sometimes due to religious beliefs around transformed porcine gelatine.
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