Vaccine Posts on Facebook Often Negatively Portray HPV Shot: ‘Trending Doesn’t Mean True’

Roughly 40% of posts on Facebook pertaining to the human papillomavirus infection (HPV) vaccine amplify perceived risks of the vaccine, and these negative posts appear to garner the most traction, according to a study.

During the 10-year period following the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the HPV vaccine (June 8, 2006-June 8, 2016), 6,506 public HPV vaccine-related posts were shared on Facebook. Study author Monique Luisi, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri School of Journalism, evaluated post characteristics, engagement, and social amplification of risk framework messages.

Overall, 39.5% of posts portrayed HPV vaccine risk amplification messages (n=2,568). And posts amplifying its risk received significantly greater reactions, comments, and share counts.

“We should not assume that only the disease is perceived as a risk, but when research supports it, that medical treatments and interventions might unfortunately also be perceived as risks,” Dr. Luisi said in a press release. “It’s more likely that people are going to see things on social media, particularly on Facebook, that are not only negative about the HPV vaccine, but will also suggest the HPV vaccine could be harmful. It amplifies the fear that people may have about the vaccine, and we see that posts that amplify fear are more likely to trend than those that don’t.”

The present study is a follow-up to a previously published report, also by Dr. Luisi.

“Facebook remains a very popular social media platform for adult audiences, which necessitates action to address HPV vaccine risk messages,” she added. “People are going to see what they are going to see on social media, so it’s important to not only take what you see on social media, but also talk to a doctor or health care provider. Just because it’s trending doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Negative attention surrounding vaccines is also prevalent right now as COVID-19 vaccination efforts are underway.

“As the COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out, people are likely going to see a lot of negative information, and that negative information will be what trends on social media,” Dr. Luisi said. “But, if the public can anticipate this negative information, it will be interesting to see if that will that make them less sensitive to the perceived risk of the vaccine.”

The study was published in Vaccine.