ECDC chief: Bigger social media presence needed to fight anti-vaccines fake news

Dr Andrea Ammon: "There is a general skepticism against science and opinions of experts and mistrust in many countries when it comes to public authorities." [EU2016 SK/Flickr]

Public health authorities at EU and national level have started working to “occupy more of the space on social media”, as it is currently almost entirely taken up by people who are against vaccination, Dr Andrea Ammon told EURACTIV.com in an interview.

Dr Andrea Ammon is the Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

She spoke to EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos in a telephone interview.

Measles cases keep on increasing in the EU. Are you worried about the situation getting worse?

If nothing is done, it will get worse. For us, the goal is not only to prevent it from getting worse but also to eliminate the disease. And this is the reason we are also working with the countries on this.

What about the new figures? In which country can we see an alarming situation?

Unfortunately, it’s actually widespread in Europe. In order to eliminate measles, you have to have everywhere in the country 95% of the people vaccinated with two doses of measles vaccine. What we see from the data is that in 22 of the 28 member states this is not the case.

What we also see is that the majority of people affected are children below one-year-old who cannot be vaccinated, who depend on the people around them being vaccinated.

The other thing that we notice increasingly is that teenagers and young adults are among those who have measles right now and the majority is not vaccinated. Almost 87% of those who get measles right now are not vaccinated.

Considering that you have an overall view of the situation, what is the main reason for the re-appearance of “forgotten” vaccine-preventable diseases?

There are several reasons, not only one. I think that vaccines are victims of their own success in a sense that they made diseases go away and people don’t take these vaccine-preventable diseases seriously anymore.

Did ‘fake news’ from anti-vaccination campaigns play a role?

There is a general scepticism against science and opinions of experts and mistrust in many countries when it comes to public authorities.

In addition to this, any information and opinions or statements can nowadays be widespread in social media in an unprecedented way without checking their evidence and validity.

So, for ECDC, the main goal in order to counteract that is to provide the science-based evidence in formats and on platforms that are accessible. This is where we are focusing our work right now.

The other thing is that we, in the public health authorities at EU and national level, are working to occupy more of the space on social media, as it is currently almost entirely occupied by people who are against vaccination.

Commission backs electronic immunisation record to manage vaccination

The European Commission supports the creation of an electronic immunisation record system that will help EU member states enhance their cross-border cooperation and simultaneously enhance prevention of infectious diseases.

Could the ongoing proposal for an EU Council recommendation on vaccination bring tangible results among member states?

There is also a Commission-led joint action and we are involved in both of them because the actions being proposed will really help make people better aware of the benefits of vaccination. There are also actions focused on counteracting vaccine scepticism so that we can move from vaccine hesitancy to vaccine confidence.

E-health, including electronic immunization systems, is increasingly important to identify unvaccinated populations. For example, these systems are being used to send reminders to unvaccinated groups because what we also to need to be aware of the fact that not everybody who is not vaccinated is against vaccines. Some people just forget it.

All the countries in one way or another are preparing their healthcare system for e-health. Some countries have already made some progress in terms of electronic information systems. Almost half of the countries already have them or planning to do.

This year we will publish guidance on how to effectively establish electronic immunizations systems because we believe that this will help raise awareness and also make the follow-up easier.

Background

MEP: Vaccination is a lifelong process, not only for children

Parents have a particular responsibility to protect their children, as they are more vulnerable to infections, but vaccination should be seen as a lifelong approach that applies to adults too, centre-right MEP Renate Sommer told EURACTIV.com.

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