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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC: Correcting Vaccine Misinformation is a Difficult Process, Study Shows

The number of girls receiving human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines in Denmark plummeted after vaccine misinformation spread through Danish media outlets from 2013 to 2016. Health officials launched a campaign in 2017 aiming to correct the misinformation and encourage girls to get vaccinated.

New research from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Public Health shows that, despite substantial progress, about 26,000 Danish girls remain unvaccinated as a result of vaccine misinformation. About 33,000 girls are born annually in Denmark. Among the unvaccinated girls, researchers expect to see as many as 180 avoidable cases of cervical cancer and 45 deaths.

The researchers found that misinformation in Danish media outlets from 2013-2016 led to vaccinations dropping by 50.4 percent. An information campaign geared toward concerned parents helped increase vaccine uptake again, but uptake is still lower than it was before misinformation began.

The study results were published January 7 in the journal Vaccine. The paper’s lead author is UNC Latané Distinguished Professor of Economics Dr. Peter R. Hansen, who worked with Dr. Noel Brewer, professor of health behavior at Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The HPV vaccine is safe and can prevent six cancers, including up to 90% of cervical cancers. Receiving the vaccine at 11 or 12 years old is important because the vaccine is most effective at that time and infections often begin at 13 years old.

“The main threat to the resilience of vaccination programs globally is vaccine misinformation,” Dr. Brewer said. “When there’s a large drop in vaccination coverage, it’s almost always because there’s an unproven vaccine safety scare. For example, Japan had their HPV vaccination rates drop from 70 percent to 7 percent in one year.”

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