While sometimes controversial, the effects of vaccinations are responsible for eradicating diseases and extending the human lifespan. Vaccines are one of the most successful public health interventions in history. Since widely introduced in the 1960s, vaccines have led to the global eradication of smallpox, the nearly global eradication of polio, and a drastic decrease in the morbidity and mortality with other infectious diseases. Today Vaccines are a victim of their own success.The absent sight of people afflicted by communicable diseases, many parents are unaware of the threats that these infectious diseases posed for earlier generations, and as such, many believe that vaccinations are no longer necessary for their children. Parents decide whether their children are vaccinated, but parents rarely reach these decisions on their own. Instead, many, parents are influenced by their social networks, broadly defined as the people and sources they go to for information, direction, and advice. Many are found overwhelmed with misinformation that leads to vaccination hesitancy, which potentially affects our herd immunity.
A lie can travel halfway around the world; while the truth is still putting on its shoes. This famous quote by Mark Twain could not be truer for the internet. Social media is the interactive parts of the Internet, places like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Snapchat, Pinterest, and YouTube, etc. so, what are parents going to find if they go on these and want to talk about vaccines? It depends, on who their friends are, what groups they are in, and who they follow. And unfortunately, that can influence whether their kids will be vaccinated and protected. Misinformation has existed on the internet for as long as the internet has existed, and arguments against vaccination have changed little over time, but one thing that’s different now is the way we distribute information. The internet democratized flows of information, making it possible for anyone with a point of view to reach vast numbers of people relatively easily. Anti-vax narratives perform particularly well on social media, where algorithms reward emotionally engaging personal anecdotes and sensational content, not dry scientific facts. However, sharing misinformation about the risks of vaccines has dangerous consequences which can easily lead vaccine weary parents to become vaccine resistant or at the very least vaccine-hesitant.
This growing phenomenon termed vaccine hesitancy is the cause of several vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks. This recent wave of the Anti-vaccine movement hasn’t gone unnoticed. The World Health Organization has listed “vaccine-hesitancy” as one of its top ten global threats in 2019. "The reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite availability threatens reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases” (WHO). Several scientific studies have implicated anti-vaccine rhetoric on social media as a key contributor to vaccine hesitancy. With that, is when enough people stop vaccinating it affects our herd immunity?
We often say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a herd. Herd immunity is important because it uniquely protects the most vulnerable members of our communities. Including infants, elderly, and those who are not immune compromised and cannot receive vaccines. We have already witnessed the effects of weakened herd immunity. New York recently declared a public health emergency due to the measles' outbreak in a predominantly orthodox Brooklyn neighborhood that choice not to vaccinate due to religious beliefs. The measles is a serious disease that is very contagious. On average 90% of those exposed to someone with measles will contract the disease themselves unless they have has the disease before or been vaccinated. When social media platforms affect immunization rates it breaks down our herd immunity and leads to an increasing number of new cases that could be prevented.
In conclusion, I would suggest any parents that have concerns about vaccinations should communicate these concerns to their healthcare providers. Although there is a lot of great information on the Internet, remember that not everything out there is accurate. Sometimes, it is difficult to know what is true. Parents and physicians should work together as a team to make the best decisions for a child and those around them. Vaccines are Important and parents need to be cautious on getting health information from social media platforms. Misleading information can have an effect on a parent’s decision to vaccinate a child or not. We are just beginning to see the effects and outcomes and it’s scary, to say the least.