The Effect of the Internet on the Anti-Vaccine Movement
Vaccines are considered to be the most successful medical phenomenon that was ever created. However, despite its advantages, there are still individuals that doubt vaccines and the effects they have on their children. This hesitation to vaccinate may put others at risk if an epidemic were to occur. This hesitation gave rise to what is known as the anti-vaccine movement. While there is a great deal of consensus that vaccine hesitancy is a problem, there are wide disagreements about why controversies exist about vaccines. One area of research that seems particularly promising is the effect that the internet has on the anti-vaccine movement. This literature review compares a number of studies that examine the reasons why parents refuse or are hesitant to vaccinate their children, therefore only articles that contributed to this conversation were selected. This research paper will use this literature to develop an understanding of what aspect of the internet has a lasting effect on parents and determine what can be done to prevent this effect and its contribution to the anti-vaccine movement.
Many studies have shown that vaccines are the most controversial routine medical procedure. Because vaccination is the act of injecting an active vaccine that contains the weakened strand of the disease it is trying to prevent, many parents against vaccines do not see that vaccines are a preventative measure. Pelčić et. al. (2016) believes that one of the most common reasons parents use in order to not vaccinate their children is religious beliefs. Religious beliefs are different from other reasons because they involve the core beliefs of parents, making it very difficult to convince parents to vaccinate. While Wombell et. al. (2015) agrees with this statement, they evaluated different religions and found that the issue that religious parents have with vaccines are the ingredients. The animal-derived gelatin and the human fetus tissue used in some vaccines posed the largest concerns for parents.
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Frederickson et. al. (2004) proposed that another common reason that parents give for refusing or delaying vaccinating their children is for personal or philosophical reasons. This study states that parents believe that natural immunity is better than immunity acquired through vaccinations. On the other hand, Harmesen, et. al. (2013) asked 60 parents why they chose not to vaccinate their children and they expressed that if their child does contract a disease, it will be beneficial because it will help make the child’s immune system stronger. Saada et. al. (2015) conducted 24 telephone interviews and found that some parents believe that since the diseases that vaccinations prevent are rare, their children are at minimal risk of contracting these diseases, they also believe that the possible negative side effects of vaccines are not worth the benefits. Frederickson et. al. (2014) and Saada et. al. (2015) both found that many parents do not see those prevented diseases as life-threatening and would prefer not to put extra chemicals into their children’s bodies.
Other researchers have found that the greatest reason parents use for refusing vaccinations are because of concerns about the safety of vaccines. Parents reveal that most of these concerns are based on information they have seen in the media or heard from family and friends (Dubé et. al. 2014). While Fredrickson et. al. (2014) agreed, the study also found that social media and news outlets often exaggerate information to get higher ratings. This causes parents to delay vaccinations because they think that administering all of the recommended vaccines at once will overload the child and increase the safety risk. Kennedy et. al. (2011) took this information one step further and concluded that in order to address this situation, a healthy relationship between a medical professional and parent is necessary to ease the fears.
Other than vaccine hesitancy due to safety concerns, parents want more information regarding vaccinations. In a study conducted by Gust et. al. (2005) about one-third of parents stated that they did not have enough access to unbiased information, and the majority of those parents did not think their child’s provider was easy to talk to. Dubé et. al. (2014) added to this conversation by conducting a survey in which parents stated that they want to be able to have conversations with their child’s primary physician without feeling judged. In a study conducted by Kennedy et. al. (2011), it was found that 81.7% of parents said their child’s primary physician was an important source of information. This study lead Frederickson et. al. (2014) to conduct a survey study with 544 participants which resulted in the finding that when parents do not get the information they want from their doctors, they look for information from other sources that may contain misinformation.
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Studies have found that in the late 20th century, the internet transformed communication by giving internet users new ways of sharing information, and creating interpersonal connections. Lee et. al. (2014) found that the Internet and Web 2.0, the ability for users to post content and comment, have changed the way that people access health information. With this information, Pew Research conducted a Health Online 2013 poll in which they found that 72% of Internet users looked for health information online and 35% chose to self-diagnose with the information they found online rather than to visit a doctor (2013). Pew Research also found that approximately 16% of those seeking medical information online searched for vaccination information and 70% of those individuals said that their research had an influence on their vaccine decision.
Vaccine hesitancy is a major problem in the United States. There are multiple reasons that have made parents either question vaccines or reject them altogether such as religious beliefs, personal or philosophical beliefs, safety concerns and lack of information. The most prevalent reason for vaccine hesitancy is due to the misinformation that parents find online. Influencers use websites and social media accounts to spread anti-vaccine propaganda and they implement techniques that make it difficult for parents to decipher between what information is real and what is not. If healthcare providers are aware of the impact that the internet has on parents and their decision making, they will be able to use specific methods to combat the misinformation that parents find online. Methods can be developed to specifically focus on every concern that parents have about vaccinations. Additional research aimed at evaluating techniques that practitioners can use to help parents see the benefits of vaccinations needs to be conducted.
- Dubé, E., Gagnon, D., Nickels, E., Jeram, S., & Schuster, M. (2014). Mapping vaccine hesitancy–country-specific characteristics of a global phenomenon. Vaccine, 32(49), 6649–6654. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2014.09.039
- Fredrickson, D., Davis, T., Arnold, C., Kennen, E., Humiston, S., Cross, J., & Bocchini, J. (n.d.). Childhood immunization refusal: Provider and parent perceptions. FAMILY MEDICINE, 36(6), 431–439. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.fiu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edswsc&AN=000221888700014&site=eds-live
- Gust, D. A., Kennedy, A., Shui, I., Smith, P. J., Nowak, G., & Pickering, L. K. (2005). Parent Attitudes Toward Immunizations and Healthcare Providers: The Role of Information. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 29(2), 105–112. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2005.04.010
- Harmsen, I. A., Mollema, L., Ruiter, R. A. C., Paulussen, T. G. W., de Melker, H. E., & Kok, G. (2013). Why parents refuse childhood vaccination: a qualitative study using online focus groups. BMC Public Health, 13(1), 1–15. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-1183
- Kennedy, A., Basket, M., & Sheedy, K. (2011). Vaccine Attitudes, Concerns, and Information Sources Reported by Parents of Young Children: Results From the 2009 HealthStyles Survey. Pediatrics, 127(Supplement). doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-1722n
- Lee, K., Hoti, K., Hughes, J. D., & Emmerton, L. (2014). Dr Google and the Consumer: A Qualitative Study Exploring the Navigational Needs and Online Health Information-Seeking Behaviors of Consumers with Chronic Health Conditions. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 16(12). doi: 10.2196/jmir.3706
- Pelčić, G., Karačić, S., Mikirtichan, G. L., Kubar, O. I., Leavitt, F. J., Cheng-Tek Tai, M., … Tomašević, L. (2016). Religious exception for vaccination or religious excuses for avoiding vaccination. Croatian medical journal, 57(5), 516–521. doi:10.3325/cmj.2016.57.516
- Pew Internet & American Life Project. (2013). The ever-shifting internet population: a new look at internet access and the digital divide. Washington, D.C.
- Saada, A., Lieu, T. A., Morain, S. R., Zikmund-Fisher, B. J., & Wittenberg, E. (2015). Parents’ choices and rationales for alternative vaccination schedules: a qualitative study. Clinical Pediatrics, 54(3), 236–243. https://doi-org.ezproxy.fiu.edu/10.1177/0009922814548838
- Wombwell, E., Fangman, M., Yoder, A., & Spero, D. (2015). Religious Barriers to Measles Vaccination. Journal of Community Health, 40(3), 597–604. doi: 10.1007/s10900-014-9956-1
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