I have been reading your blogs on Facebook about vaccines for the past few weeks. I see a lot of information on Facebook, some for vaccines and some against, but it’s sometimes hard to figure out what should I believe and what shouldn’t I. Can you recommend to me a place on the internet where I can find dependable information about vaccines?
I probably use half of my time on Facebook using the critical thinking skills learned in high school and college trying to differentiate between objective information (a.k.a. “facts”), opinions, and “fake news.” (If I comment on your FB page and refer to you as “Comrade,” I’m not buying what you’re selling!) I spend a lot of my time on social media and online interacting and conversing with people in the medical, environmental health, and climate change fields. Needless to say, that means a lot of articles, reports, and studies to sift through to decide on their validity. If it comes from one of my Facebook colleagues or “friends”, it usually is. Inevitable, especially on Facebook, are the trolls that enter your newsfeed (and the space between your ears) and rile you up with misinformation, conspiracy theories, and vitriol. This is especially true with dealing with climate change fact-deniers. It’s maddening for sure, but, fortunately there aren’t that many of them. The same is true about vaccine fact-deniers (thankfully, there aren’t that many of them either!)
When learning about subjects that have become controversial, it is extremely helpful to rely on people who are truly experts in those fields. For vaccines, that would be your board certified pediatrician. There are online resources that are excellent in helping parents separate the wheat from the chaff as it were. Not the only, but one of the best sites to debunk myths regarding vaccines is Vaxopedia. These “Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Immunizations” reassures the reader that they are in the right place:
Not surprisingly, many parents have the same questions about immunizations and they want answers to reassure themselves that they are doing the right thing for their kids by getting them vaccinated and protected.
- Yes, vaccines are safe.
- No, vaccines are not associated with autism.
- Yes, vaccines are necessary.
- No, vaccines are not 100% effective, but they do work very well to protect us, including those folks who can’t be vaccinated.
- No, antifreeze is not an ingredient in any vaccine.
- Kids get 36 doses of 10 vaccines (HepB, DTaP, Hib, Prevnar, IPV, Rota, MMR, Varivax, HepA, Flu) before starting kindergarten, which protect them against 14 vaccine-preventable diseases.
- Yes, vaccines can have side effects, but they are usually mild. True vaccine injuries are very rare.
- No, there are no benefits to delaying or skipping any of your child’s vaccines.
- No, vaccines will not overload your baby’s immune system.
- Yes, your baby should get their hepatitis B shot.
- Yes, you can wait too long to get your kids vaccinated.
- No, shedding is not usually a problem after you get vaccinated.
- No, vaccines are not associated with SIDS or shaken baby syndrome.
- Immunity from most vaccines is long lasting.
- Herd immunity is real.
- No, there are no alternatives to getting vaccinated if you want to protect your kids from vaccine-preventable diseases.
- Yes, vaccines are well tested to make sure they are safe.
- VAERS reports are not confirmed to be true.
- No, your MTHFR test results don’t mean that your kids can’t be vaccinated.
- Vaccines that are recommend in pregnancy are tested and are safe.
- Yes, you should report vaccine reactions to VAERS.
- No, there aren’t 100 or more research papers supporting a link between vaccines and autism.
- Everything anti-vaccine folks tell you about tetanus is wrong.
- Pro-life parents do vaccinate their kids.
- No, you shouldn’t get your medical advice from celebrities.
Each point has links to pages where you can read about the evidence-based data supporting them. (I have omitted the links, but you can see the entire post with links here.)
Another excellent site is Science-Based Medicine, which covers many other topics besides vaccines. What is going on in the minds and browsers of the anti-vaccine community is the subject of a recent study, reviewed by David Gorski:
Primarily, the results of the topic modelling suggest that the anti-vaccination community is very concerned with the institutional arrangements that are perceived to be perpetuating the harmful practice of vaccination. The sentiment across all topic models (with the exception of Topic 9) is quite negative in tone, suggesting that users of the anti-vaccination pages feel not only morally outraged about the practice of vaccination, but structurally oppressed by seemingly tyrannical and conspiratorial government and media. Topics 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 10 all appear to accord with conspiracy-style beliefs in which the government and media are key actors in underplaying, denying, or perpetuating the perceived harms caused by vaccinations. These include: media cover-up or denial of the extent of vaccination injury and death (Topic 3); Bill Gates’ involvement in the spread of Zika virus within Brazil and beyond its borders (Topic 5); and chemtrails (Topic 10), which is a belief that the vapour trails emitted by aircraft are chemical compounds sprayed by the government and designed to subdue the population and/or control the weather (Oliver & Wood, 2014).
Facebook and Twitter are the social media outlets of choice for the attraction and dissemination of false information among followers and “friends.” Gorski quotes from the study’s chilling conclusion:
This ‘righteous indignation’, in combination with the network characteristics identified in this study, indicates that anti-vaccination communities are likely to be persistent across time and global in scope as they utilise the affordances of social media platforms to disseminate anti-vaccination information. Concerns about vaccination reveal a community that feels persecuted and is suspicious of mainstream medical practice and government-sanctioned methods to prevent disease. In a generation that has rarely seen these diseases first hand, the risk of adverse reaction seems more immediate and pressing than disease prevention…
Gorski sees a trend on social media:
The problem in dealing with antivaccine activists on social media, as is the problem in dealing with many groups dedicated to pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, and misinformation, is how to penetrate the bubble of the echo chamber, where misinformation is reinforced and attempts to bring scientific evidence to bear ignored or attacked. That remains one of the great problems of the 21st century.
Other go-to websites for accurate information on vaccines:
— American Academy of Pediatrics (aap.org and healthychildren.org).
— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov).
— World Health Organization (who.int)
— Vaccine Education Center from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (chop.edu)
— Seattle Mama Blog (Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson’s fantastic blog, seattlemamadoc.seattlechildrens.org).
Tomorrow we’ll look at an evidence-based cartoon which takes science education to a new level.
*** Beginning January 22, 2018, Pediatric Alliance and some our pediatric colleagues from around the United States are participating in an AAP-sponsored immunization advocacy campaign on social media. Please follow all our social media posts during this project on Facebook and Twitter.