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Anti-Vaccination Websites use ‘Science’ to Argue their Case, Study Reports

Update Date: Nov 04, 2015 01:48 PM EST
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Anti-vaccination websites are tricking people into believing that vaccines are dangerous, a new study reported.

For this study, researchers analyzed the content on nearly 500 anti-vaccination websites (blogs, Facebook pages and health websites) that were specifically about childhood vaccines and discovered that about 66 percent of the websites claimed that vaccinations lead to autism, a developmental disorder that affects one's communication and social skills. Numerous studies have looked into this relationship and found no correlation or causation.

The researchers also found that 66 percent of the website represented data as scientific evidence when it simply was not true. Roughly half of those websites supported their claims that vaccine is dangerous by using people's anecdotes, while other websites used peer-reviewed studies. These studies' findings were misinterpreted and subsequently, misrepresented.

Falsely leading people to believe that vaccines are bad for one's health can lead to serious and dangerous consequences. When children are not vaccinated, they are at risk of contracting diseases that could potentially be fatal. When people in general are not vaccinated, risks of outbreaks increase.

"So the science itself was strong, but the way it was being interpreted was not very accurate," study author Meghan Moran, an associate professor in Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School's Department of Health, Behavior and Society, explained. "It was being distorted to support an anti-vaccine agenda."

One of the most common mistakes that the researchers found was mistaking correlation for causation.

Aside from reporting on the health risks involved with vaccines, these websites tended to promote similar lifestyles. 18.5 percent encouraged healthy eating, five percent specifically promoted organic foods and 5.5 percent advised mothers to breastfeed.

"The biggest global takeaway is that we need to communicate to the vaccine-hesitant parent in a way that resonates with them and is sensitive to their concerns," Moran concluded. "In our review, we saw communication for things we consider healthy, such as breastfeeding, eating organic, the types of behavior public health officials want to encourage. I think we can leverage these good things and reframe our communication in a way that makes sense to those parents resisting vaccines for their children."

The study's findings were presented at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in Chicago.

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