Monitoring system to globally track false social media claims on dangers of vaccines
MALCOLM HOLLAND THE DAILY TELEGRAPH MAY 13, 2013 9:00AM SHARE
SPURIOUS and unscientific claims about the dangers of vaccines can now be tracked as soon as they appear on social media around the world.
British and American scientists have developed a computerised monitoring system which alerts experts to quickly spreading rumours, outright lies, misinformation, and legitimate public concerns, about vaccinations in 144 countries including Australia.
“Recent measles outbreaks in the UK, stemming from children not-vaccinated due to fears prompted by now-discredited research over a decade ago, is one example of the long-term consequences of broken public trust in vaccines” lead author Heidi Larson, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the UK, said.
“The Internet has speeded up the global spread of unchecked rumours and misinformation about vaccines and can seriously undermine public confidence, leading to low rates of vaccine uptake and even disease outbreaks.”
Dr Larson said the new application builds on the ability of capacity of HealthMapan online surveillance resource that detects and maps early signs of disease outbreaks from electronic data sources from 144 countries.
Between May 2011 and April 2012, 10 380 reports concerning vaccinations were identified and categorised.
Almost seventy per cent were positive or “neutral” about vaccinations while 31 per cent were negative.
The researchers also devised a system to identify the types of concerns found on electronic media and prioritise reports according to their potential to disrupt vaccine uptake.
Of the negative reports, almost half were associated with the health impacts of vaccine impacts and people’s beliefs, either associated with their religion or their ideas about supposed risks from vaccinations.
“Real-time monitoring and analysis of vaccine concerns could help governments and public health officials locally, nationally, and globally understand where they should focus their attention and resources when a concern arises, and where specific vaccines might need more tailored engagement strategies,” Dr Larson said.
She said scientists would also be able to immediately enter public debates about vaccination, while in the past they often only became aware of issues when it was too late to offer their expertise.