Cases of mumps and measles are on the rise in Ireland as people are sharing the discredited research of Andrew Wakefield who linked the vaccine to autism, on social media.
The disgraced former doctor was struck off for publishing a fraudulent study on the measles, mumps and rubella jab.
Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine immunisation rates dropped sharply in the years following Wakefield’s discredited research in 1998.
The spread of vaccine misinformation on social media is hard to tackle because of its reach, the HSE assistant national director has said.
Speaking at the Health Service Executive (HSE) Winter Plan update on Thursday, Dr Kevin Kelleher said encouraging people to get vaccines is “a difficult message” to get across.
Our biggest problem is that we have this large cohort of people who were born in the 90s and who have not been fully immunised and that's quite a large groupDr Kevin Kelleher
He said more people access health information online and on social media and some of it is not factual.
On Monday The Minister for Health Simon Harris sat down with Facebook, Twitter and Google to discuss the measures they are taking to combat anti-vaccination misinformation on their platforms.
Vaccine hesitancy has been identified by the World Health Organisation as one of the 10 leading threats to global health this year.
Dr Kelleher said the HSE is working to combat the spread of misinformation about vaccines on social media and they have had great success in getting people to take the HPV vaccine.
“Measles is back and unfortunately some of the stuff they are putting out there has been totally discredited but they have come back to Andrew Wakefield who has been utterly discredited and yet it’s out there on social media again,” he said.
“So it’s a problem and it’s something that we have to work very, very hard to combat.”
Dr Kelleher said the spread of Andrew Wakefield’s theories led to hundreds of children not being vaccinated in the 1990s.
“Our biggest problem is that we have this large cohort of people who were born in the 90s and who have not been fully immunised and that’s quite a large group,” he said.
He encouraged anyone who wants to be vaccinated to do so and encouraged parents to ensure their children get vaccinated and get their information about vaccines from credible websites.
“Particularly for the group we’re talking about, social media is the relevance of how they get information and we have to be in that arena and that’s very different from when I started nearly 40 years ago,” he said.
“There is lots of evidence that people are more inclined to accept that sort of bad information than the science that is backed up,” he said.