An increase in new cases of the measles and a decrease in vaccination numbers are being blamed on the rise of anti-vaccination groups spreading their false facts through social media and other outlets.
This is according to Simon Stevens, the head of England’s National Health Service (NHS). Stevens refers to the people spreading the falsities as “vaccination deniers.” He said the most common social media platforms targeted are Instagram, YouTube, and WhatsApp. Last January, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) said that social media is a fertile breeding ground for misinformation because of how quickly false information can travel. Stevens points to facts such as a three-fold increase in new measles cases across Europe to prove that the vaccination deniers are gaining traction.
It is not uncommon for anti-vaccination groups to harness the power of social media to spread their agenda. Stevens said that the growing concern has prompted health leaders to discuss how the spread of this misinformation and false conspiracy theories can be stopped.
The effort to stop the success of the vaccination deniers is making progress. Just this week, YouTube agreed to remove commercials that encourage anti-vaccination ideas from its videos.
Although Britain enjoys higher vaccination rates than much of Europe, the country is still vulnerable to the power of social media to spread misinformation. NHS data demonstrates that the proportion of children who receive the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine has decreased for four consecutive years in England.
In the United States, the state of Washington recently experienced a measles outbreak after a contagious individual spread the disease to a number of unvaccinated people.
Containing the spread of false information regarding the effectiveness of vaccines is vitally important. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the current global vaccination protocols prevent two to three million deaths per year worldwide. The WHO said that an additional 1.5 million deaths could be prevented with more effective vaccination practices.