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Social media and the “anti-vax” phenomenon

The current rise of the anti-vax movement is a nothing more than a passing amusement for some, however the threat of misinformation spread across the media is a genuine cause for concern in the long run.

Claims that vaccinations can cause autism or that government agencies are planting trackers within the public through immunisation have been circulating the globe in recent years, scaring parents into refusing to vaccinate their children. This is known as vaccine denialism.

While this may seem like a passing phase, much like most conspiracy theories or scares, the anti-vax movement has only gained momentum. The internet especially seems to be the typical platform for people to share their concerns about immunisation and the supposed effect it can have upon themselves and their children.

The World Health Organisation is so concerned from the recent panic and “vaccine hesitancy” that they have now added the anti-vaccination movement as one of the ten global health threats in 2019.

Public health experts and medical professionals have reacted with alarm and concern over the new vaccine panic and have been advising parents to do their research and have their children inoculated. Most people would assume that the danger only lies with the un-vaccinated child, however, studies have shown that there is greater danger to the surrounding public, especially young babies who are vulnerable to all kinds of diseases.

A recent research study by The Guardian showed a worrying increase in measles outbreaks in Europe and across the United States – a result experts fear has been caused by misinformation about MMR vaccinations.

The issue has became so prevalent and topical that popular medical dramas such as House and Chicago Med have both featured story-lines on the topic: story-lines in which babies have been on the brink of death due to missing their vaccinations or being in proximity to someone who is not immunised.

Credit: Fox News

There is confusion about where the fear of vaccinations has originated from and why it seems to be making such an impact on mainstream social media platforms. It is said that the anti-vax movement began in France in the 18th century, back when there was good reason to fear the underdeveloped vaccinations. Medical science was not nearly as advanced or as hygienic as it is now and many doctors tended to make their patients’ ailments worse.

But now that science has vastly improved, why has this movement made a sudden resurgence? New research undertaken by Francois Van Schalkwyk of Stellenbosch University in South Africa has theorised that social media is to blame for the rising hysteria.

He argues that new media has changed the way that the population processes science. “Anti-vaxers” can use the internet to share select scientific information to amplify hesitancy.

Media also allows people to make entire online communities where certain agendas and viewpoints can be pushed and escalated – something Schalkwyk argues only fuels the prevalence of vaccine denial and the associated fears.

While the anti-vax movement tends to garner sceptical and often disbelieving responses, there are some parents out there quick to jump to the movement’s defence. One father, Rene F. Najera, who works in public health, wrote in a blog:

…a large swath of the population in the United States has not seen a case of Measles so the dangers posed by these diseases is not visible to them. When you combine the desire to protect your offspring with the invisibility of preventable diseases that vaccines have been successful in preventing you get people that are hesitant about vaccines.”

The current rise of the anti-vax movement is a nothing more than a passing amusement for some, however the threat of misinformation spread across the media is a genuine cause for concern in the long run.

The health of entire continents is being compromised and diseases that were thought to have been eradicated are now making a reappearance in prospering countries. This speaks volumes for the power of the media in our society today.

Credit: NBC News

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