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Fear of side effects the main driver behind patients not getting vaccinated

The fear of potential side effects is the main reason people choose not to get vaccinated, new research has found.

The study from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) analysed a series of ‘relevant’ online articles and carried out three public surveys including 2,000 adults, 2,622 parents and 216 healthcare professionals, to identify the barriers to vaccination uptake across different age groups in the UK.

It found social media often spreads misleading and negative messages about vaccination to the public, with most respondents saying they had refused to get vaccinated against flu, measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) or HPV due to concern around side effects.

This comes as Public Health England have proposed adding MMR vaccination catch-up elements to the GP contract, in an effort to tackle low uptake levels.

Last year, NHS Digital found the number of children getting the MMR vaccine dropped to its lowest level since 2011/2012.

The study also found:

  • Two in five (41%) parents with children under the age of 18 said they are ‘often or sometimes’ exposed to negative messages about vaccinations on social media. This rose to one in two (50%) among parents with children under five
  • Lack of confidence in the flu vaccine effectiveness was the main reason for parents refusing to vaccinate their children
  • One in four (28%) of all respondents said they believe ‘you can have too many vaccinations’
  • Overall, most respondents said timing, availability and location of appointments are barriers to vaccination

RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer said: ‘In the UK, we are fortunate to have a fantastic, world-leading vaccination programme, with excellent levels of coverage. However, we should never be complacent: history has taught us that fear and misinformation about vaccines can cause substantial damage to even the strongest vaccination programmes.

‘With the rise of social media, we must guard against the spread of "fake news" about vaccinations. We have found worrying levels of exposure to negative messages about vaccinations on social media, and the spread of misinformation – if it impacts uptake of vaccines – could severely damage the public’s health.’

The latest figures from NHS Digital showed childhood vaccination coverage declined in nine of the 12 routine vaccinations in 2017/18, compared to the previous year.

Readers' comments (2)

  • when the next epidemic hits darwinism will prevail. natural self selection at its best or worst depending on your viewpoint. when children start dying from flu and measles again, in large numbers, then it will change. sad.

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  • Cobblers

    Society, via Government, should state that being vaccinated is a part of a citizen’s responsibility to each and all of us.

    There should be no compulsion as it does not take Einstein to see how that could be abused but freedom of choice, as a right, does come with the downside (responsibility) that choosing the antivaxers’s route does produce children that can cause harm to society. (I ignore in this discussion the damage caused to the child itself by having antivaxer parents, which is more a Child Protection Issue and, as such, an even bigger discussion)

    Should then society not try to mitigate that harm by ‘encouraging’ the genuinely worried to discuss their issues with professional health people and the refusers, the feckless, the can’t be arsed, the haven’t got the time, contingent be warned that society isn’t willing to embrace their children, either with money (Child benefit) or schooling?

    It sounds harsh but with herd immunity dropping and measles and polio rearing their heads again ready to cause death and long term disability (iron lung anyone?) isn’t it time to show a bit of backbone?

    /rant over

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