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Twitter Awash with Opinions on HPV Vaccine

DEC 19, 2016 | CONTAGION EDITORIAL STAFF
Big Data abounds across many different platforms, and healthcare providers are poised to utilize these data to inform decisions. Recent studies have looked at how Facebook posts capture users’ opinions on vaccines, as well as whether or not users are sharing accurate information on the Zika virus. Now, researchers from Drexel University, Thomas Jefferson University, and Microsoft Research Israel have tapped into Twitter data to learn how the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine is perceived by users on that platform, based on their chatter.
 
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about 1 in 4 individuals are currently infected with HPV. In addition, the virus accounts for 27,000 new cases of HPV-related cancers—such as cervical cancer and genital warts—among others, in the United States every year. Because of this, healthcare professionals urge parents to get their children vaccinated against the virus.
 
The HPV vaccine guidelines were recently updated to recommend that preteens (11 to 12 years of age) receive 2 doses of the HPV vaccine (instead of the previously recommended 3 doses.) According to Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the CDC, “This recommendation will make it simpler for parents to get their children protected in time.”
 
Despite these new recommendations, some individuals are still choosing not to vaccinate their children and are taking to social media to voice their concerns. In the recent study, researchers turned to Twitter data to assess the opinions, and found, perhaps surprisingly, that the majority of the content was positive.
 
Study co-author, Philip M. Massey, MPH, PhD, assistant professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, was quoted in a recent press release as stating, “In our sample, I expected to see a large number of negative tweets based on traditional news coverage of the topic and because HPV can be portrayed as controversial because it brings together the fields of sexually transmitted infections, immunizations and cancer prevention, but that wasn't the case on Twitter, we found.”
 
After analyzing almost 200,000 “English-language tweets between the summers of 2014 and 2015,” the researchers found that “nearly 39% of tweets about HPV vaccine were positive, while just over 25% were negative.”
 
Although it is the responsibility of parents to ensure that their children receive recommended vaccinations, it is important to almost monitor the general consensus on vaccines on social media because the teens and adolescents who are the priority targets for the HPV vaccine are among the highest utilizers of social media, according to the press release.
 
In the press release, Dr. Massey stated, "Kids, adolescents and young people, in general, are priority populations for HPV vaccination. These same populations are some of the highest utilizers of social media. Parents play a key role in deciding whether their kids will get the vaccine, and as more millennials reach parenthood, social media may play an even bigger role in cancer prevention, especially concerning HPV vaccination."
 
He continued, “We need to think more about how we can help strengthen people's ability to obtain, evaluate and apply well-founded information from trustworthy sources to inform health decisions.”
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