The viral spread of negative vaccine sentiments online creates problems for manufacturers and public health officials alike. It is now easier than ever for people to be exposed to negative views, but this also makes it possible to track the spread of such sentiments.
GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) made headlines last week when its vaccine message board monitoring program came to light, but it is far from the only group digging deep into online discussions. Data from one such project was published this week in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. The research analyzed one year's worth of media reports--more than 10,000 pieces from 144 countries--to get a sense of where negative vaccine views were most prevalent.
The need for such a system was noted by lead study author Heidi Larson while working at UNICEF during the early 2000s. "I realized that there was no systematic monitoring nor assessment of the emergence of public concerns about vaccines, and thought there was a great need for this type of surveillance," Larson told The Sydney Morning Herald. Having landed a new role at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Larson secured funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to address the lack of oversight.
Larson used the cash to set up an automated data-collection system and manually analyze and categorize the reports. Almost one-third of reports from the year sampled were negative. With a system for such a large-scale data analysis now in place, the researchers hope they will be able to spot emerging trends earlier. Sharing such intelligence with health campaigners could help to target resources on specific public concerns. It is hoped the more targeted, timely interventions will stop surges in negative views--like the 2003 backlash against polio vaccines in Nigeria--from derailing immunization campaigns.