A recently launched study is using Twitter as a means of better understanding why people refuse vaccinations.
Researchers from George Washington University, John Hopkins University and the University of Georgia have already analyzed millions of Tweets, and geo-location data. They have found that areas in the U.S. where more people receive flu shots had more positive messages about vaccines on Twitter.
The scientists are using traditional survey methods from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System and Twitter data. This will allow them to take into account the views of older, white, rural households, which typically respond to traditional surveys, in addition to young, urban minorities who typically post on Twitter.
“People really do tweet about everything, and conversations about vaccines are no exception,” David Broniatowski, assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at George Washington University, said. “Parents and patients freely share their fears and concerns about vaccines. While it typically takes years to collect meaningful information about why people refuse vaccines, using surveys and searching Twitter brings immediate results.”
The researchers see social media as an immediate way to help health care providers respond to outbreaks in a timely manner, as well as communicate with communities.
“This was really surprising and exciting,” Dr. Karen Hilyard, assistant professor in the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia, said. “It shows that we can get this type of information from Twitter faster, cheaper and more easily. Frankly, it’s a game changer when it comes to health surveys, especially as we dig deeper to examine more complex attitudes and beliefs among different demographic groups.”