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Social media effort helped reverse HPV vaccination drop
A targeted social media campaign has been cited as one of the reasons why Ireland managed to turn around a sharp drop in the number of teenage girls receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which protects against most cervical cancers.

According to irishtimes.com, a research paper by Dr. Brenda Corcoran, Dr. Anna Clarke and Dr. Tom Barrett of the HSE’s National Immunization Office, published in in the Lancet medical journal, said that ‘forming powerful cross-sectoral alliances’ also helped to rapidly improve vaccine uptake.

The authors said the formation last August of the ‘HPV Vaccination Alliance’ — a group of more than 35 organizations working in health, women’s rights, child welfare, and wider civil society “that are committed to raising awareness of HPV vaccination” — helped to reverse the trend.

Their paper — entitled ‘Rapid Response to the HPV Vaccination Crisis in Ireland’ — also said the programmer benefited from a targeted media and social media strategy.

“In 2017-18, a media campaign was launched featuring vaccinated girls, which was strongly supported by the HPV Vaccination Alliance and senior politicians. A wide range of groups now promote the vaccine, which has had an immediate impact.”

The Irish experience contrasts with those of other countries where there has been a steep decline in vaccine uptake due to health scares such as Japan and Denmark.

“It is vital that this positive momentum is maintained to decrease morbidity and mortality from cervical cancer,” the researchers concluded.

 

Schools-based programmer

 

The schools-based vaccination programmer for girls aged 12-13 years began in Ireland in 2010. Initially, the proportion of students who completed the vaccination course was above 80 percent, reaching a high of 86.9 percent in 2014-2015.

No variance was seen between schools of different religious ethos, although disadvantaged schools had a lower uptake than others in 2013-2014, they said.

The proportion of girls who completed the vaccination schedule in 2015-2016 dropped to 72.3 per cent, and uptake of the first dose decreased to an estimated 50 per cent in 2016-2017.

“This decline in vaccine uptake was due to parental concerns about vaccine safety that were spread by lobby groups established in 2015,” they concluded.

“The groups built a strong social media platform with emotive personal narratives, and they lobbied politicians and distributed misinformation, with support from local and national media.”

This publicity, they pointed out, resulted in the documentary Cervical Cancer Vaccine – Is It Safe? Being broadcast on national television in December 2015, containing footage from a similar Danish programmer.

“Regaining parental trust was difficult without direct contact, so we at the Irish National Immunization Office established a steering group of concerned organizations in early 2016 to encourage all key stakeholders to actively promote the vaccine,” the researchers wrote.

Focus groups on parental attitudes to HPV vaccination were held and they intensified their analysis of and activity on social media.

“The results of these activities assisted us in establishing liaisons with educational, parental, political, and other bodies, and in light of the results of the focus group discussions and analysis of social media, we revised print and online materials including short videos on our WHO-accredited website.”

Unvaccinated girls were also offered another opportunity to be vaccinated and the ‘first dose uptake’ increased in 2016-2017 to 55.8 percent and to an estimated 61.7 percent in 2017-2018.

 

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