vaccines work
November 30, 2020

Facebook's ban on anti-vaccination groups may be too little, too late when it comes to encouraging vaccinations for COVID-19.

First banning anti-vaccination ads on its platform in October, Facebook took another step last week as it removed the biggest anti-vaccine groups spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. But researchers say the damage may have already been done, as those groups have already spread misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine far and wide, and smaller groups have already spread enough anti-vaccine misinformation to replace them, NBC News reports.

Facebook has long been reluctant to crack down on misinformation on its site, only recently taking action against conspiracy theory groups promoting violence. And as biotech companies spent months trying to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, anti-vax groups were allowed to linger and sow distrust in the vaccines' funding and effectiveness.

Vaccination proponents and misinformation researchers saw last week's takedowns as "mostly positive," but forthcoming research gives them reason for worry. A paper currently under review shows people in Facebook groups unrelated to vaccines, such as groups for parents, "are increasingly connecting with the anti-vaccination movement" as anti-vaccination groups spread their influence elsewhere, NBC News reports.

Neil Johnson, who studies online extremism and was part of the study, compared the rise to a "tumor growth," saying "what we're seeing play out with COVID is what was already in the system." This "insurgency" has "embedded with the mainstream civilian population," Johnson continued, spreading misinformation far and wide. Two polls from Pew Research and YouGov have found that distrust of the coronavirus vaccine is rampant, and has increased since the beginning of the pandemic, potentially spelling trouble when it comes to getting as many people as possible to get an eventual vaccine. Read more at NBC News. Kathryn Krawczyk

July 2, 2019

New research suggests that stricter vaccine laws help defend children against vaccine-preventable diseases.

In the midst of several outbreaks of dangerous, preventable diseases, California has tightened its immunization laws in recent years, Science News reported. A new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday, analyzed the effect of those laws on school-aged children in the state, concluding that stricter laws help reduce the risk of dangerous disease outbreaks.

Scientists examined data on 9 million children from 2000 to 2017, analyzing the changes in vaccination rates from before and after California's new laws were implemented (between 2014 and 2016). The laws were found to reduce the likelihood of kids who weren't vaccinated or were behind on their vaccines encountering other such kids, making it 22 percent less likely for them to infect each other.

Insulating unvaccinated people from each other bolsters "herd immunity," an effect that helps communities better resist contagious diseases. That means "the risk of a disease outbreak also decreased" with the new laws, said Cassandra Pingali, one of the study's authors.

"The study illustrates that stricter immunization laws improve vaccination rates," said Jana Shaw, a pediatric infectious disease specialist not involved with the study. Other states can "adopt laws that would protect children" by following California's example, she said.

Read more at Science News. Shivani Ishwar

May 14, 2019

Vaccines work, and Twitter wants you to know it.

Amid growing misinformation surrounding vaccines, Twitter has rolled out a tool that combats falsities with reliable information, it announced Friday. The tool drops a link to at the top of U.S. searches for tweets related to vaccines, and links out to appropriate government information for Canada, Japan, Brazil, and several other countries.

In the past few months, the U.S. has seen the number of measles outbreaks skyrocket, putting it on track for the highest annual number of measles cases since the disease was declared "eliminated" in 2000. That's partially been furthered by people who choose not to vaccinate themselves or their children, and who often chalk their decisions up to false associations between vaccines and autism. Conspiracy theorists and even the president have spread this misinformation, and it has proliferated widely on social media as well.

That's why Twitter on Friday quietly unveiled its small addition to its search function, which puts reliable information on top of anything questionable. Twitter also said it won't "auto-suggest queries that are likely to direct individuals to non-credible commentary and information about vaccines" in its blog post. It already works to ensure advertisements don't "contain misleading claims about the cure, treatment, diagnosis, or prevention of certain diseases and conditions," the post continues.

The move is similar to how Twitter offers resources when someone searches for tweets related to suicide or self-harm. It also has a reporting feature so users can notify a team that reviews mentions of self-harm or suicide on the site. Kathryn Krawczyk

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