Measles and the MMR vaccine are big news at the moment – in fact it feels like the story has been getting even more news coverage than Brexit over the last couple of weeks, and with good reason. The latest outbreak is reportedly a 25 year high for the disease in the US, with France and the UK also ranking alongside the US as high income countries with some of the largest numbers of children missing their MMR vaccinations.
So why is this happening? The UK was actually granted measles elimination status by the World Health Organisation in 2017 after all – it seems crazy to think it could all go so wrong so quickly. Governments and news outlets around the world have been taking aim at the growing “anti-vaxxer” movement that appears to be gaining traction recently, well apart from perhaps President Trump and his super helpful thoughts on linking the MMR vaccine with Autism that he’s thankfully since retracted. He’s now calling on all Americans to “get their shots” in case you missed that one.
Many people will remember that the MMR vaccine was controversially linked to autism back in the 90s by former British doctor Andrew Wakefield who published a fraudulent research paper linking the two. It was later discovered that Wakefield had been paid by attorneys of parents who were suing the vaccine manufacturers and that his data was fraudulent. He was eventually struck off by the General Medical Council after being found guilty of professional misconduct. None of this mattered though – the anti-vaxxer community were quick to latch on this “research”, finally claiming to have the proof they needed, and it’s something that has taken time to fade from people’s minds.
However, now some of these theories appear to be making a comeback, with the latest figures suggesting that more than half a million children in the UK missed their first dose of MMR between 2010 and 2017, just behind France at 608,000, and the US with a staggering 2.6 million. Many have been quick to point the finger at social media and the fake news epidemic that we’ve been hearing about over the past couple of years or so, but how true is it? We thought we’d run a few questions past our members in last week’s Omnibus survey to find out about their experiences.
To set the scene and gather our member’s thoughts on vaccinations in general, we asked on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “I do not believe that children should be vaccinated at all” and 5 being “Vaccinations for children in the UK should be compulsory”, what our members thought. Encouragingly, 81% of 1,059 nationally representative respondents put either a 4 or a 5, with the majority of those answering with 5. Just 6% put their answer as either a 1 or a 2, with the remaining 13% sitting on the fence and believing that it should be up to the parents as to whether they vaccinate their children.
The big question came at the end – we wanted to know whether our members had seen or heard any advice or information from so called anti-vaxxers in the last few months and the results were interesting. While we found that 27% had never seen or heard of this type of content before, and a further 27% had heard of this type of content but hadn’t seen it personally, a fairly high 25% had seen anti-vaxxer content on social media in the last few months. Furthermore, 21% of respondents reported seeing this type of content online and 14% have either heard or had a conversation with someone about it. Staggeringly, the most dedicated anti-vaxxers out there appear to be so determined to spread their message that they’re going door to door – with 5% of respondents reporting that they’ve received this type of content through their door, and while thankfully a fairly low number, a still worrying 6% of respondents reported sharing anti-vaxxer content themselves in the last few months.
While it’s clear then that anti-vaxxer content is not finding its way to everyone, it’s still quite concerning that so many of our respondents have been exposed to this type of content in some way in the last few months, and our research does seem to suggest that while social media isn’t the only culprit here, it certainly appears to be the place where you’re most likely to run into this content.
What do you think about the current measles outbreak? Do you think social media is to blame? Let us know in the comments – we look forward to reading them.