Measles and Information in the Digital Age

In the last few weeks, Measles and immunizations in general are a lead story on news sites, feed readers, Twitter and Facebook pages. There are the anti-vaccination parents, pro-vax families and some pro-choice supporters. However, many of the debates lack substantial data to back up their arguments. Instead, there is a lot of anecdotal information and misinformation.

Vaccine

As someone who works to disseminate information across sectors, I have significant experience with the location of quality news sources. It is a skill that needs constant development and refinement.  Below, I outline some suggestions to locate quality information and list some examples related to the current Measles discussion.

  • Stay up-to-date on general news – locally, nationally, and internationally.
  • Look for bias.
    • This is an important one that I think may people don’t think about enough.  Usually when I talk about this issue, it’s around college scholarships and financial aid; for-profit websites may ask for a fee to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) when it is accessible for free.  In regards to vaccinations, look for influences on the page that might raise red flags.  This could be a blog that receives support from a pharmaceutical company, or a news site that only shows news from one point of view around a common agenda (such as organic living).
  • Weigh the information.
    • While difficult to do, especially people who aren’t familiar with a topic or field, weighing the information is key.  For a scientific topic like vaccination, we want to look for research-based results and professionals in the field.  While it is hard to read the original studies (an example here), look for news sources that cite research and statements from professional sources.  In an article from the Washington Post quoted the Center for Disease Control (CDC) director.  Looking at the CDC’s website, we can find possible side effects from various immunizations.  Looking for other sites that are against vaccination, I found many that had obvious bias, or not enough information to substantiate claims.
  • Talk to a local professional.
    • If at the end of the day, I am not satisfied with the research I find online or at the library, I track down someone locally that works in the field I’m interested it.  Whether it is a county health official or a pediatrician, there are always people who can offer their professional opinions.

Staying informed with quality information to make good decisions.  At one time, there was a study that showed a link between vaccinations and autism.  While research appeared as if it were from a professional and reliable source, it was later discovered that the data was false.  Studies since show that there is not an association between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism.  In a world with so many sources of information, it is important to read, learn and discuss.  And as new information becomes available, we need to learn and adapt again.

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