Nova Scotia·Health Hacks

Guarding against vaccine hesitancy in an age of misinformation

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton says social media and fake news is to blame for misinformation about vaccines.

Vaccine hesitancy an 'alarmingly growing phenomenon'

Mary Jane Hampton says it's important to get accurate information about vaccines. (onair/Shutterstock )

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

Illnesses once thought to have been a thing of the past in Canada have seen a resurgence in recent years thanks to vaccine hesitancy — a growing trend of misinformation about vaccines spread largely through social media.

"Vaccine hesitancy is the polite term for people who refuse to accept the evidence behind the value of immunization," said Mary Jane Hampton, a Halifax-based health-care consultant.

Hampton told CBC's Information Morning that vaccine-hesitant people range from those who simply question the effectiveness of vaccines, to those who think vaccines are actively harmful or deeply believe in conspiracy theories involving the government and drug companies.

"Vaccine hesitancy is all of that, and however you unpack it, it is a significant and alarmingly growing phenomenon in public health safety," said Hampton.

The World Health Organization (WHO) identified vaccine hesitancy as one of 10 threats to global health in 2019.

'The viral nature of fake news'

Hampton said social media is having a huge impact on the way misinformation about vaccines is being shared.

She said it might be easy to ignore this misinformation the first time you see it in your social media feed. But it becomes less easy to ignore when you see it more and more often — especially if it's being shared by your own circle of friends and family.

"And then over time as it becomes more and more and more visible in people's feeds, it becomes truth," said Hampton. 

"So in a really twisted way, the viruses that we have really taken some progress globally to start to eradicate seem to be making a comeback on the strength of a different virus, which is the viral nature of fake news."

Mary Jane Hampton is a Halifax-based health-care consultant. (Robert Short/CBC)

There are ways to push back against this misinformation, said Hampton.

She said you can reach out to your social media friends if you see them posting inaccurate information about vaccines.

"I can tell you that any statement that suggests that vaccinations that are linked to public health issues are ineffective, or useless, or dangerous, that is untrue. That is fake news," she said.

"So to the extent that you're comfortable name it, and just send a note back to a friend to say, 'You know what, I don't think this is actually accurate.'

"You could even give them a link to a public health site to confirm what the correct news is."

The virus that is going to get you. Mary Jane Hampton looks at the way widely spread misinformation on vaccines has a negative effect on our health. 7:03

Hampton also said Canadians can download an application called CANImmunize, where people can get more information about vaccines and keep track of their immunization records.

The app sends vaccination reminders and has an outbreak map so users can see if there are any outbreaks nearby.

She said this is a more effective way of keeping track of your vaccinations than traditional paper records.

"Take charge of this yourself. Don't be a victim of fake news," she said.

"Over the course of your lifetime, there will be immunizations you need from when you're a baby to when you travel to deepest Africa, and there should be one place that you keep all of this information so you know exactly how well you and your family are protected."

With files from Information Morning


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