'Science isn’t enough': Queensland Health admits vaccine info 'failure'

Queensland Health admits it has failed to do enough to encourage vaccinations as it calls for social media companies to do more to stop the spread of misinformation.

Queensland is experiencing one of its worst years for measles cases in the last two decades, with 71 cases recorded by the first week of December.

It's the third-worst year for measles since 1997, when a spike saw 267 people diagnosed with the dangerous virus. There were 72 cases in 2014.

But Queensland’s experience pales in comparison to that seen recently in Samoa, where a major outbreak has infected nearly 5000 people and claimed 72 lives, 61 of those children under four years old.

In response to the spread of misinformation about the Samoan outbreak, social media platform Instagram started to show a warning on posts linked to anti-vaccination views.

The app instead directs users to the World Health Organisation’s information page about vaccinations.

Robert Hoge, the Executive Director of Queensland Health’s strategic communications branch, welcomed the move by Instagram and encouraged other social media platforms to follow suit.

“The rise of anti-vaxxers is a storytelling failure; what it suggests to me is we haven’t engaged people in a meaningful way that won the conversation that was there to be won,” he said.

“Which is why this move from Instagram is really important, and we’d really encourage Twitter, Facebook and TikTok, and any other social media channel we can find to try out something similar.”

Mr Hoge said Queensland Health clinicians had been doing good work to make people aware of vaccinations but he felt they needed to do more to get that message out to the public.

“If you look at anything from obesity to climate change to vaccination the science isn’t enough," he said.

"The science has to be accompanied by good and effective communication and storytelling."

Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital (RBWH) acting director of infectious diseases, Andrew Redmond, said the idea there was a “debate” around vaccinations was entirely false.

“It’s a confected debate and it’s not a debate in good faith,” Dr Redmond said.

“Registered health practitioners are great people to get vaccine advice from, not people who look good on Instagram.”

In response to the crisis in Samoa, that country’s government shut down all government services for two days and implemented a widespread vaccination campaign, which has managed to reach 93 per cent of the population.

Dr Redmond said it was a good turnaround, but it had still taken dozens of people dying for the country to get there.

“All of the deaths from measles are completely preventable, and situations like Samoa are a reminder that measles is not a benign disease, that in countries that don’t have good vaccine campaigns there are hundreds of people dying from measles every year,” he said.

In Queensland it’s estimated the rate of immunisation for children aged one to four averages from 91.5 to 92.1 per cent, meaning almost one in 10 children is exposed to at least one vaccine-preventable disease.

“The good thing that can come out of these events is people can become aware of the protective strength of vaccines and that we can talk about vaccines in a positive way,” Dr Redmond said.

“Helping people to identify what is reliable information and what is not reliable information is really important.”


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