Social media myths blamed for rise in measles cases

Dr Sophie HodgettsDr Sophie Hodgetts
Dr Sophie Hodgetts | Other 3rd Party
A North East academic has blamed social media anti-vaccination messages for an increase in measles cases.

Dr Sophie Hodgetts, a lecturer in psychology at Sunderland University, spoke out as Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered urgent action to boost the number of children and young people receiving vaccinations - including for the measles, mumps and rubella jab – and called for health leaders to renew their efforts to ensure 95% of the population have had both doses of the MMR vaccine.

There were 231 confirmed cases of measles in the UK during the first quarter of this year and only 87.2% of children have the second dose of the jab, down from a high of 88.6% in 2014-15.

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Britain has lost its "measles-free" status with the World Health Organisation – three years after the virus was eliminated in the country.

Dr Hodgetts believes that inaccurate and misleading anti-vaccination messages on social media could be one reason why inoculation rates are falling.

She said: “If you already think vaccines are bad, chances are you will only search out information that supports that view.

“This information can come from anywhere.

“That is part of the reason why this issue keeps coming back time and time again.”

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She added: “The fact that we are still talking about this issue is mind-boggling given that the research is pretty conclusive – that vaccines are safe.

“Whenever a celebrity comes out saying they are either for or against vaccines, the issue gets dragged up all over again.”

NHS England is to write to all GPs urging them to promote "catch-up" vaccination programmes, and will seek to strengthen the role of local immunisation co-ordinators in a bid to improve uptake.

Social media companies will also be called to a summit to discuss how they can promote accurate information about vaccination.

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Mr Johnson said: "After a period of progress where we were once able to declare Britain measles free, we've now seen hundreds of cases of measles in the UK this year.

"From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infectious, treatable diseases in modern-day Britain."