GSK anonymously listens to online vax talk, then mines data for nuggets

By Carly Helfand

It's no secret that vaccines face critics, and perhaps none are more aware of vaccine hesitancy than vaccine producers. While companies don't need to conduct research to know that parents have concerns regarding vaccination, a bit of mystery surrounds why--despite clinical evidence dispelling the connection between vaccines and autism, for example--such theories continue to persist.

So GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) decided to dig deeper. As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, for two months Glaxo used a text analytics model, grown by startup Luminoso, to analyze public discussion boards on BabyCenter.com and WhattoExpect.com in an attempt to assess patient sentiment about vaccines. 

The study allowed GSK to organize thousands of posts into topical groups like "safety," "timing" and "comfort" and feelings like "happiness" and "unhappiness."

"Our hope was that Luminoso's model might give us deeper insight into the drivers of these concerns as well as the impact these considerations were having on parents' vaccination decisions," GSK told FierceVaccines in an email statement.

This is not the first time someone has listened in on online vaccination discussions. In 2011, a Penn State researcher mined Twitter for hundreds of thousands of vaccine-related tweets from the 6-month period in which the H1N1 virus was making headlines. A computer programmer then organized the data geographically to find that in some cases, positive or negative sentiments toward vaccines in tweets from particular regions correlated with actual vaccination rates in those regions.

Glaxo said it has not yet made any decisions on whether it would use the text analytics model with online discussion boards again or on how it will apply the Luminoso research findings. But any insight the company can gather into how to better distribute information and market its vaccines should be helpful to the general population in addition to the company's top line. In Wales, for example, Glaxo is a top source of an MMR vaccine that Welsh health authorities say is 99% effective in preventing measles after two shots. And as a measles outbreak continues to ravage the Swansea area, where thousands are still unprotected by inoculation, the more the word can get out, the better.

- read the WSJ piece

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