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Misinformation About Vaccines Could Threaten Global Public Health

Nature: The biggest pandemic risk? Viral misinformation
Heidi J. Larson, professor of anthropology, risk and decision science at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

“…I predict that the next major outbreak — whether of a highly fatal strain of influenza or something else — will not be due to a lack of preventive technologies. Instead, emotional contagion, digitally enabled, could erode trust in vaccines so much as to render them moot. The deluge of conflicting information, misinformation, and manipulated information on social media should be recognized as a global public health threat. So, what is to be done? The Vaccine Confidence Project … works to detect early signals of rumors and scares about vaccines, and so to address them before they snowball. … No single strategy works for all types of misinformation, particularly among those who are already skeptical. … Dialogue matters. Strategies must include listening and engagement. We have to get better at this: if a strain as deadly as the 1918 influenza emerges and people’s hesitancy to get vaccinated remains at the level it is today, a debilitating and fatal disease will spread” (10/16).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.