A recent study by Anna Kata examined the role of the internet as a tool for disseminating misinformation and found that if the word “vaccination” was applied to the Google search engine 71% of the sites would be classified as anti-vaccination. Interestingly, when the word “immunization” was applied no anti-vaccination sites were found. This was thought to be because these lobby groups do not believe that vaccination confers immunity. They also examined the content criteria of anti-vaccination websites and found the main areas covered were the safety and efficacy of vaccines, the promotion of alternative medicines, infringement of civil liberties, conspiracy theories with regards to big pharmas quest for profits and collusion, and morality and religion. Moreover, the majority of websites were found to contain misinformation on vaccines and the selective use of research data to promote their stance.
So how can the accurate information get communicated to the public to at least have an equal voice in this debate in this medium? According to Kata, education is important but has not proven to be greatly successful over the decades that this debate has raged. More importantly, she suggests it is to understand and acknowledge what drives the public to support such lobby groups such as; the search for alternate models for health, ownership of ones healthcare needs, and the increasing lack of trust government and healthcare institutions.
Katta A., A postmodern Pandora’s box: Anti-vaccination misinformation on the Internet, Vaccine 28(2010) 1709-1716