Calls to Combat Online Vaccine Misinformation from Ireland’s Health Minister

Ireland’s Minister for Health, Simon Harris, today called on social media companies to do more to stop the spread of online misinformation on vaccines.

The Minister was speaking in Dublin at the launch of Vaccine Alliance, an initiative aimed at boosting uptake in childhood vaccinations and reducing vaccine hesitancy.

The Alliance will include healthcare professionals, policy makers, patient advocates, students, and representatives from groups most affected by vaccine hesitancy.

Minister Harris said that he has written to social media companies including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google to invite them to Dublin to discuss how they can tackle the spread of misinformation through their platforms.

Speaking at the launch he said, ‘Social media companies need to decide which side they want to be on’ in relation to the spread of vaccine information or misinformation.

Ireland recently made the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine available for free to all boys entering second-level education. A form of the HPV vaccine has been available to all girls in the first year of second level education since 2010.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, (ECDC), HPV is a group of viruses which include a number of ‘high risk’ viruses that can cause cervical cancer in women. HPV is also associated with other anogenital cancers and head and neck cancer in both men and women.

In a statement Minister Harris said, ‘Vaccination rates across the country are falling and diseases we had consigned to the history books are now making a comeback. We cannot afford to do nothing. We cannot allow the success of our childhood immunisation programme become its enemy.

This Alliance will build on the success we have had with the HPV vaccine where (uptake) rates increased from 51% to 70% in a short period of time and it will ensure parents have accurate, evidence-based information about vaccinations.’

According to an article in medical journal The Lancet last year, Australian doctors reported they expect to eradicate cervical cancer within a decade.

Australia launched free vaccinations for 12- and 13-year-old girls in 2007, one year after the vaccine became available. The campaign was extended to boys of the same age in 2013.

As a result just 1.1 per cent of women aged 18 to 24 were infected with HPV in 2015, compared with 22.7 per cent in 2005.

Photo by Government of PE Island/Creative Commons (CC Licence)


Antoinette Tyrrell is a writer and journalist who started her career in print and broadcast journalism in Ireland. An English and History graduate of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, she worked for 11 years in corporate public relations for Irish Government bodies in the Foreign Direct Investment and Energy sectors.

She is the founder of GoWrite, a business writing and public relations consultancy. Her work has appeared in a range of national and international media and trade publications. She is also a traditionally published novelist of commercial fiction.

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