A new study presented this week at the American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting in Chicago claims that more than 400 websites maintained by anti-vaccine truthers are loaded with deceitful and misleading information. Such misinformation influenced parents to delay or refuse vaccination to their children.
According to Meghan Moran, PhD in Health, Behavior and Society from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the study sought to understand the tactics that anti-vaccine advocates use to persuade parents against vaccination. In doing so, they conducted content analysis of 480 anti-vaccine websites they searched from Google, Bing, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves using search terms like “immunization dangers” and “vaccine danger.” After eliminating duplicates, they found relevant personal websites and blogs that they found to present misleading information and sources regarding the debate on vaccines.
The study found that more than 65 percent of the anti-vaccine websites mislead parents by claiming that vaccines are dangerous; 62.2 percent deceive percents by declaring that vaccines cause autism; and 41.1 percent says they cause brain injury.
Sixty-four percent of these websites also used unfounded scientific evidence and 30 percent used anecdotes. Others argue on values such as choice (41 percent), freedom (20.5 percent) and individuality (17.4 percent). Other anti-vaccine websites co-promote alternative medicine (18.8 percent), homeopathy (10.2 percent), and eating a healthy or organic diet (18.5 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively); toxic cleansing (7.1 percent), breastfeeding (5.5 percent) and religiosity (6.8 percent.)
Moran said that based on the study, scientists can formulate effective communication styles in order to make vaccine-hesitant parents to listen to them. “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,” Moran said as quoted by Medical News Today.
Debate on vaccines grew following an explosive article written by Robert Kennedy Jr for Rollingstone in 2005. The article revealed how federal officials and pharmaceutical executives assembled and discussed a study regarding how childhood vaccines caused autism in children. Kennedy cited a study by CDC epidemiologist Tom Verstraeten based from analysis of massive database containing the medical records of 100,000 children. The study found that mercury-based preservative in the vaccines called the thimerosal appeared to be responsible for an alarming increase in autism and other brain disorders among vaccinated children.
According to the article, instead of taking immediate steps to alert the public and rid the vaccine of thimerosal, government officials and medical representatives discussed the most effective coverup. The CDC allegedly paid the Institute of Medicine to conduct a new study to whitewash the discovered effects of the chemical. The CDC had also reportedly ordered researchers to erase thimerosal’s link to autism.