Confidence Commentary: Blog archive

On “valid” information: Who should decide?

Heidi Larson | 17 Mar, 2019
The American Medical Association (see below) has followed a Member of Congress  in appealing to technology company heads to ensure accurate information on vaccines(full letter below).  While I fully support an appeal to address  the amplifying algorithms and other technical mechanisms that inflate and cluster misleading information, is it not neglect of our responsibility as public health professionals to be instructing technology experts to “ensure that users have access to scientifically valid information on vaccination”? Doesn’t this issue instead call for a collaborative effort, bringing together relevant expertise?  It is time for public health professionals, technology experts, and some members of the public to sit around the same table to bring the best information, through  honest, rather than manipulated media, in a sensitive rather than seeming censored manner. Democracy matters. This approach may only harden the views of those who already feel they have no voice.

From the British Medical Journal   (18 March 2019)

 Overcoming vaccine hesitancy: five minutes with . . .Heidi Larson      

 Excerpt:  “Social media platforms—including Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest and YouTube—without intention, have amplified concerns, simply by the nature of the media. I think it’s important that Facebook is responding to the call.

“But there’s a limit to what we should expect. It’s inappropriate for us to be asking Facebook to distinguish what is good information on vaccines, and what’s bad information. That’s the job of public health institutions, and we need to take responsibility for some of the content. We should be thinking about a collaborative approach, combining Facebook’s areas of  expertise, such as fixing algorithms, with those of the public health community, who can advise on credible content.”   Full article


March 13, 2019
Dear CEOs of Leading Technology Companies:
At a time when vaccine-preventable diseases, particularly measles, are reemerging in the United States and threatening communities and public health, physicians across the country are troubled by reports of anti-vaccine related messages and advertisements targeting parents searching for vaccine information on your platforms. As physicians, we are concerned that the proliferation of this type of health-related misinformation will undermine sound science, further decrease vaccinations, and persuade people to make medical decisions that could spark the spread of easily preventable diseases.
With public health on the line and with social media serving as a leading source of information for the American people, we urge you to do your part to ensure that users have access to scientifically valid information on vaccinations, so they can make informed decisions about their families’ health. We also urge you to make public your plans to ensure that users have access to accurate, timely, scientifically sound information on vaccines.
We applaud companies that have already taken action, but encourage you to continue evaluating the impact of these policies and take further steps to address the issue as needed.
The overwhelming scientific evidence shows that vaccines are among the most effective and safest interventions to both prevent individual illness and protect public health. When immunization rates are high, people who cannot be protected directly by the vaccines are protected because they are not exposed to the disease. This includes children too young to receive vaccinations and people with medical contraindications.
The reductions we have seen in vaccination coverage threaten to erase many years of progress as nearly eliminated and preventable diseases return, resulting in illness, disability and death. In order to protect our communities’ health, it is important that people be aware not just that these diseases still exist and can still debilitate and kill, but that vaccines are a safe, proven way to protect against them.
As evident from the measles outbreaks currently impacting communities in several states, when people decide not to be immunized as a matter of personal preference or misinformation, they put themselves and others at risk of disease. That is why it is extremely important that people who are searching for information about vaccination have access to accurate, evidence-based information grounded in science.
Thank you for your attention to this critical, public health matter. We look forward to hearing from you.
James L. Madara, MD
Executive Vice President, CEO
From the Center for Vaccine Ethics & Policy
Vaccines and Global Health: The Week in Review
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Literature Literature archive

Roxanne Nelson 2019 Lancet Infectious Diseases Vol19 (3):248,
Owen Dyer 2019 BMJ 364:l739 doi: 10.1136/bmj.l739
Lee TH, McGlynn EA, Safran DG. 2019 JAMA 321(6):539–540. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.19186

Videos Video archive

Key figures share their perspectives on a controversy that led to the suspension of Ebola vaccine clinical trials in Ghana.

Drs. Heidi Larson and Pauline Paterson of the Vaccine Confidence Project join episode 50 of the Public Health United podcast with Nina Martin, November 2017.

Drs. Larson and Paterson join a discussion on vaccine confidence at Hong Kong University.  September, 2015.

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