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Countering Antivax Misinformation Ups Parents’ Perceptions of HPV Vaccines

These social media messages build positive attitudes, which are tied to intention to vaccinate

By Lori Solomon HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Dec. 15, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Evidence-based messages that counter misinformation and promote human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination in social media environments can positively influence parents’ attitudes and intention to vaccinate their children, according to a study published in the November issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Sunny Jung Kim, Ph.D., from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and colleagues tested the effectiveness of messages to change parents’ attitudes and behavioral intentions toward HPV vaccination. The analysis included survey responses from 1,043 eligible parents, who were randomly assigned to one of six control messages and 25 experimental messages around the themes of safety, distrust of the health care system, vaccine effectiveness concerns, sexual activity, and misinformation.

The researchers found that parents receiving experimental messages had increased positive attitudes toward HPV vaccination versus those receiving control messages. Positive attitude was associated with increased intention to vaccinate among parents of unvaccinated children (aged 9 to 14 years). Four themes — distrust of the health care system, vaccine effectiveness concerns, sexual activity, and misinformation — were relatively effective in increasing behavioral intentions by positively influencing attitudes toward the HPV vaccine. Positive perceptions were achieved by messages that provided scientific evidence from government-related sources (e.g., the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and corrected misinformation (e.g., “Vaccines like the HPV vaccine are simply a way for pharmaceutical companies to make money. That isn’t true”).

“We know that the spread of misinformation and misconceptions online has created psychological barriers for other vaccines as well, like the COVID-19 vaccine,” Kim said in a statement. “Our research has shown that, with the right communication strategies, we can help break down these barriers.”

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