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Concern over side effects the main reason patients refuse vaccinations

The fear of potential side effects is the main reason people choose not to get vaccinated, new research has found.

It found social media often spreads misleading and negative messages about vaccination to the public, with most respondents saying they had refused to get vaccinated against flu, measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) or HPV due to concern around side effects.

This comes as Public Health England have proposed adding MMR vaccination catch-up elements to the GP contract, in an effort to tackle low uptake levels.

The study from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) analysed a series of ‘relevant’ online articles and carried out three public surveys including 2,000 adults, 2,622 parents and 216 healthcare professionals, to identify the barriers to vaccination uptake across different age groups in the UK.

Last year, NHS Digital found the number of children getting the MMR vaccine dropped to its lowest level since 2011/2012.

The study also found:

  • Two in five (41%) parents with children under the age of 18 said they are ‘often or sometimes’ exposed to negative messages about vaccinations on social media. This rose to one in two (50%) among parents with children under five
  • Lack of confidence in the flu vaccine effectiveness was the main reason for parents refusing to vaccinate their children
  • One in four (28%) of all respondents said they believe ‘you can have too many vaccinations’
  • Overall, most respondents said timing, availability and location of appointments are barriers to vaccination

RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer said: ‘In the UK, we are fortunate to have a fantastic, world-leading vaccination programme, with excellent levels of coverage. However, we should never be complacent: history has taught us that fear and misinformation about vaccines can cause substantial damage to even the strongest vaccination programmes.

‘With the rise of social media, we must guard against the spread of "fake news" about vaccinations. We have found worrying levels of exposure to negative messages about vaccinations on social media, and the spread of misinformation – if it impacts uptake of vaccines – could severely damage the public’s health.’

The latest figures from NHS Digital showed childhood vaccination coverage declined in nine of the 12 routine vaccinations in 2017/18, compared to the previous year.