Humans and Health

YouTube Demonetises Anti-Vaccine Videos – Too Little Too Late?

The appearance of adverts next to controversial YouTube videos has once again raised the issue of social media as a propagator of unsafe content.

After reviewing where their adverts were being used, big name brands, including Nestle and Kellogg’s, found their adverts being associated with anti-vaccination channels. Needless to say, many companies who discovered the misuse of their content have since pulled all their advertising from YouTube and the website has now demonetised all videos that promote anti-vaccine views.

The circulation of harmful propaganda by social media is thought by many to be the reason why, despite overwhelming evidence mounted against it, the anti-vaccine movement has not gone away.

“fears about vaccines became more and more exaggerated”

A single paper, published in 1998, linked the MMR vaccine to autism. Since then, no study has been able to replicate such results and the author has been found guilty of serious professional misconduct and struck off the medical register. Sadly, the story had already spread across the globe. From there fears about vaccines became more and more exaggerated.

This latest move by YouTube comes perhaps too late. The anti-vac movement has been gaining momentum since it first began two decades ago and is now classified as a ‘top 10 global health threat’ in 2019 by the World Health Organisation.

Surely a billion-dollar corporation should have safe guards in place to catch such blatantly harmful channels before they become part of a global health threat?

It was the eruption of media attention that first sent news of a single fraudulent study around the world, but it is online platforms that are fuelling the flames. Without scientific evidence and expert opinion, rumours and fictitious theories become prevalent and widely believed. Apply this to a topic which has vast consequences for human health and social media becomes a very scary tool. Indeed, spring 2015 saw the first death from measles in the United States in 12 years.

“online platforms that are fuelling the flames”

Why is the controversy over childhood immunisations such a damaging movement for human health?

The general concept of vaccinations is quite simple to understand. By injecting the the body with a dead or partially inactive form of a bug it allows our systems to defeat the live version when we come into contact with it again. In a way it is like practising your back-flip on a mat before doing it on a hard floor.

Most importantly, when a large proportion of the population are vaccinated against diseases then nobody ends up catching the bug and spread of the disease is halted. That means that the vulnerable among us, like your gran or your baby cousin, are also protected despite being more likely to get ill. This is called herd immunity.

But a crucial part of herd immunity is that a minimum proportion of the population need to be vaccinated before the spread of disease is stopped. So when social media is used to change the opinions of mothers and fathers about immunising their children, it is not just bad news for the child, it is very bad news for everyone. Furthermore, the evidence being used to change their minds is often exaggerated and quite frankly, lies.

Ironically, the effectiveness of vaccines is a large part of the reason why it’s easy to turn them down. When you’ve never seen a disease in your lifetime it’s hard to remember that it even exists, and far easier to doubt that vaccines are needed. It’s as if we need to take a step back in time, to when diseases such as whooping cough were killing children, for us to truly appreciate the overwhelming positive effects that vaccines have had on the world.

Honor Sangster

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Featured image courtesy of Dr.Partha Sarathi Sahana via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here.

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