Zika vaccine scepticism goes viral


Pharmacists need to utilise every opportunity to educate consumers about vaccination before travelling

Zika vaccine scepticism and conspiracy theories are already rife on social media, according to an analysis by health researchers.

Evidence suggests the public is generally sceptical of the development and approval process for vaccines, say the authors of a report published in Vaccine.

Their review of 138,513 Twitter messages reveals the Zika vaccine is no exception in attracting negative responses, months before it is even ready.

They found a rapid rise in tweets associated with pseudo-scientific claims coincided with an increase in overall interest in Zika, suggesting that people quickly subscribe to these theories.

zika_tweets

Source: Dredze et al. Vaccine, May 20, 2016.

Anxiety and lack of education is to blame, say the authors.

“Uncertainty regarding the origin, transmission and health consequences of the Zika virus has created a fertile environment for conspiracy theories and pseudo-scientific claims,” they write.

“In the time it takes to develop a vaccine, these claims have the potential to become entrenched, increasing the likelihood people will refuse the Zika vaccine”.

While public health practitioners may view these online sources as lacking credibility, such avenues of information have been successful in advancing these messages in the past.

For example, online vaccine sceptic communities have contributed to lower vaccination rates, the 2014-15 Disneyland measles outbreak and more.

“Public health officials must get out in front of the conspiracy theorists to education and influence the population now,” they conclude.

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