Vaccine promotion – the medium matters too

By Grant Jacobs 28/10/2010 22

While some of the writers here are gearing up for Vaccine Awareness Week, Esther Taunton from Taranaki Daily News reports that the low up-take of the government-funded human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation programme is being laid at the feet of lack of engagement with social media in the program.

They argue that without a presence in the social media popular with the age-group that they were targeting, the kids were receiving too much of a cautionary (or even misleading) message.

I wrote a post about vaccination promotion a while back wondering if a more positive approach and message, but with a younger age group in mind (thinking of targeting parents via the kids).

While the ’Naki DHB is clearly focused on a positive message, their lesson suggests that the medium matters too.

Thinking about the awareness program for the HPV vaccination program, I’m guessing teens see blogs as old school.

(That’s any blogs, not us. As for us at sciblogs in particular, we’re far too adult-oriented for that crowd and perhaps seen by others as an extension of the government or health authorities in their eyes to boot, when in fact we’re independent.)

It helps to talk their language. That’s never genuine except from someone near to their age-group. Don’t you hate it when presenters for, say, a concert put it on when they’re clearly trying to be wayyy younger than they are? It hardly ever rings true, and is cringing when it doesn’t.

Am I alone in thinking that you probably need to fire up a bunch of kids, perhaps just a couple years older than the target audience, and get them cranking out Facebook pages, tweets, whatever? Perhaps the group you really need to educate are those who are just a little older than the target group?

I’m sure the publicity people while have done far more on this than my few minutes of idle rumination – I still think it’s worth discussing. What do you think?


For more on the wider issue of promotion of vaccines, Joseph Albietz writing a Science-Based Medicine as a few words on the topic.

I did think that perhaps a well-known young solo Mum like Keisha Castle-Hughes speaking out might be a help, but it occurs to me that it might play both ways – ? A very quick google search suggests she hasn’t been involved. (Please don’t tell me she’s against the vaccine.)

Other articles on Code for life:

Positive encouragement for vaccination

What comedian and vaccine critic Bill Mayer wrote

Rubella, not a benign disease if experienced during early pregnancy

Sources for medical information for non-medics and non-scientists

Descent into a boiling volcano crater, and puffing smoke rings

22 Responses to “Vaccine promotion – the medium matters too”

  • I disagree with Esther’s premise. The Social Media Networks have given parents a chance to exchanges stories, information and research so that others can make an informed decision about whether or not to get their children vaccinated – especially with the HPV vaccine. Otherwise how would information from the 9/08 FDA Closing Statement on Gardasil stating that 73.3% of girls getting the vaccine will develop a new medical condition? Or how about the 5/06 FDA VRBPAC document stating if women were already exposed to HPV and get the vaccine their chances of developing cervical cancer increase by 46.5% post Gardasil and 32.5% post Cervarix. Don’t you think this is information worth sharing? Or how about the 20,101 adverse reactions and 84 deaths attributed to the HPV vaccines that are reported in VAERS? Parents need to have this information before they make a choice. Unfortunately most of the stories on the SMN’s are from parents whose daughters were injured because they did not know the facts. Wouldn’t you want to know if you had a daughter of HPV vaccine age?

  • It’s great for people to share information, & to make informed decisions on the basis of that information, but that really does make it absolutely essential that the information is accurate. Some of it’s not.

    On VAERS – people can put anything on VAERS, it’s not checked for authenticity. In one (in)famous case a researcher made the comment that a recent vaccine had turned him into the Green Hulk. Manifestly untrue – and yet it was accepted into the database & took him an enormous amount of effort to have it removed. The 5/06 FDA VRBPAC document notes that passive surveillance systems are subject to multiple limitations, including underreporting, reporting of temporal associations or unconfirmed diagnoses, and lack of denominator data and unbiased comparison groups. In other words, deaths attributed to the HPV vaccines may have no causal link to them whatsoever, & an analysis of the data suggests that there’s no actual significant difference in mortality, & the causes of that mortality, between vaccinated & unvaccinated women. From a 2009 FDA review: none of the adverse events in the safety review, including syncope and VTEs, were reported at rates (number of adverse events/number of doses distributed) greater than expected in a population of this age and gender and with other known contributing factors to these adverse events.

    There are also high-profile cases of anti-vaccine activists claiming that a particular death is due to the vaccine, when this is demonstrably untrue. In the UK Natalie Morton died shortly after receiving it. Her death was followed by a public outcry (whipped up by some of the tabloid press) against Cevarix. Yet an autopsy showed that she’d died from an undiagnosed malignant tumour, which could have killed her at any time.

    Please can you provide a link to the FDA statement about development of new medical conditions? I’ve done a quick lit search using FDA, 73.3% & Gardasil as the search terms & all that returns is papers on who influences young women in their decision (ie in one paper73.3% of girls reported being influenced by doctors/nurses. Which may suggest my search skills suck, but anyway a link would be good :)
    The 5/06 FDA VRBPAC ( notes that Gardasil does not clear virus from women with a prior HPV infection. Nor will it work agains HPV strains not included in the vaccine. So far (page 62 of 187) I haven’t yet found a statement about risk of cervical cancer increasing post-Gardasil in this group of patients.

  • Leslie,

    Excuse the slow reply.

    I disagree with Esther’s premise.

    She’s reporting others’ premises. It’s a report, not an opinion piece where she speaks her own views.

    I think you’re rushing in a little and missing what both of us (separately) are saying. Esther reported that the DHB thought that social media such as Facebook (etc.) has been actively used to present concerns. (I must add, and inaccurate statements, as well.) Your remarks confirm what Esther reported, not stand in opposition to it.

    What she focused on, and that I picked up on, was that the vaccine programme didn’t use social media networks, and they thought they might have done better had they used social media as part of their awareness programme. They’re not reported as opposing people using Facebook, they’re reported as thinking they should have too.

    I moved that to social media focused on communicating to the kids, not the parents.

    May 16, 2008 VRBPAC document … pg. 7

    Could you clarify what part of this page 7 you think shows an increase in cervical cancer in those that are vaccinated? I haven’t time to read it in depth, but the text on that page doesn’t describe any outcomes, only the procedure used, so I’m guessing you mean Table 6? If you mean Table 6, it shows a lower incidence of lesions in those who are vaccinated compared to the placebo, so I’m left confused.

  • On a different note, I sometimes feel that ‘social media’ has become a catchall phrase for what should simply be ‘better communication’

    Further, it may not only be a case of engaging with young people, but also with the older people around them – mums, dads, etc. Strong encouragement from these people would help a lot, but I imagine recent scare stories in the media have put people off…

  • Gardasil was covered at the Goodfellow Symposium (Auckland, March 2010) by Helen Petousis-Harris and Nikki Turner. I find it interesting that what they presented there still hasn’t made it onto the communication networks that my teenagers use and that much of what is circulating on the networks are horror stories that have already been debunked by research.
    For what it’s worth, relying on my memory of the presentation, Gardasil is probably the most studied vaccine yet developed and also has the lowest incidence of adverse effects of any vaccine yet developed. No deaths have been caused by the vaccine anywhere but because of the number of vaccinations that have been given there have been a few coincidences reported (can drowning be caused by vaccination?)
    Gardasil vaccinations started earlier in Australia than here, but sexual health clinics (in Sydney?) have already noted about 50% decrease in presentation of genital warts in young women and even about a 10% reduction in young men. It’s just too soon to observe any reduction in the incidence of cervical carcinoma as that takes many years to develop after the initial HPV infection.
    There’s a few other cancers identified in the past few years that appear to be induced by the strains of HPV covered by Gardasil (oropharyngeal carcinoma?) and so it is possible that indication for use of the vaccine may be extended to other segments of the population in the future.

  • A later recollection:
    Although it was initially thought that Gardasil would have about a five year “memory” by the immune system, the women who had the vaccine over five years ago do not show any reduction in immunity. It appears to give a much longer lasting immunity to HPV than anyone thought.

  • Hi Leslie,

    I noticed your article on sanevax pointing to my article above last night and added a comment pointing readers to the remainder of the article (it didn’t seem clear to me that readers would realise there was more) and the discussion here.

    Today I find you’ve removed it. It’s your blog to do what you want, of course, but can I ask why you removed it? (Just trying to learn.)

  • Hi Stuart,

    Sounds like a good presentation, thanks for the recollections from it.

    One thing I find about social media and chat forums is the persistence of those opposing issues! (Whatever the issue at hand is.) In the end it’s almost entirely rumours & gossip, with the odd keen soul trying to correct the worst of the silliness.

    One thing that is one in science communication circles is live twittering / friend feeding / blogging of event like that. Not sure how much difference it might make, but that though occurred to me as I was writing. Some people are pretty good a conveying a presentation in a stream of 140 character snippets!

  • Regards my earlier comment to Leslie, there seems to have been some misunderstanding. My guess is that she misread me as asking her to write a précis in place the material she copied (I didn’t), and opted to remove it.

  • I’ve said this before, but what I have a tremendous problem with is avowed anti-vax activists like Hilary Butler hijacking the tragedies of families who have lost a daughter to previously unknown heart conditions and the like (which killed young people regularly long before Gardasil was even thought of ) and attributing them to the vaccine. It makes me feel ill watching the callous way they treat grieving parents, for their own self-serving ends!

  • Hi mythbuster :-)

    There is that too. I know it better from the thimerosal-causes-autism line of argument. Many of those at the core of promoting this are anti-vaccine proponents, rather than people whose first interest lies with autism. It’s nicely illustrated by some of these people — slowly! — shifting to making out adjuvants as their target now the it’s rather hard to make thimerosal a culprit. (Not that that stops some from continuing to make that claim!)

  • Exactly – and what’s even worse is the fact that many of the self-styled ‘caring’ people opposing vaccines are promoting /and or selling products and services allged to ‘cure’ autism. I find it utterly painful to see them setting the scene; convincing parents that they are somehow to blame for ‘damaging’ their child through vaccines – then falsely promising to make it all better – in return for significant amounts of money!

  • I think I wrote somewhere (probably last year) that I worry some people seem to not “see the con”, as it were, not see the marketing spiel, and fall for it. It sometimes feels like the sales scams of the 1950s or whatever re-invented for the internet age, but based around social media and “creating a community” rather than “the pitch” per se. (Not that I’m old enough to have experience the old-style scams!)

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