Anti-Vaxxers Find Home on Pinterest

Pharmacists might be surprised to learn that Pinterest is a hotbed for anti-vaccine sentiment.

Pharmacists might be surprised to learn that Pinterest is a hotbed for anti-vaccine sentiment.

Social networking sites of all types can be powerful platforms to deliver and receive health information. In some cases, however, that shared information does more harm than good.

Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University recently published a study in Vaccine that evaluated vaccine-related pins on the visual social media site Pinterest.

Of the 800 vaccine pins analyzed in the study, 74% were decidedly anti-vaccine and 18% were pro-vaccine. The remaining 8% were either neutral or undetermined.

A vast majority of the pins (about 81.5%) connected the user to an external website. Of these pins, only 3.7% were linked to an official medical website.

Conspiracy theories and perceived violations of civil liberties were common themes of the pins.

For instance, 21.5% of pins mentioned the concept of either a government or pharmaceutical industry conspiracy. Other common themes present among the pins involved vaccine safety and general distrust of the competence of health care providers administering them.

Although this study was the first to evaluate vaccination sentiment on Pinterest, evidence from previous studies suggests that online commenters have a bigger impact on individuals’ vaccine-related opinions than credible public service announcements.

The current researchers asserted that Pinterest’s focus on photos and personal stories may increase risk perceptions, given that users spend significantly more time per visit on visually focused social media platforms.

Vaccine rejection carries significant public health implications, and understanding why anti-vaxxers stand against vaccination may help pharmacists develop strategies to remove barriers to immunization.

“Health educators and public health organizations should be aware of these dynamics, since a successful health communication campaign should start with an understanding of what and how publics communicate about the topic at hand,” the study authors wrote.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that routine childhood vaccination aided by the agency’s “Vaccines for Children” program will prevent 732,000 premature deaths from preventable illnesses throughout the lives of children born in the last 2 decades.