YouTube – A Dangerous Source for Immunization Information

Internet-based information sources are an area of growing concern in the medical community, with biased and unsubstantiated opinions becoming more and more prevalent. The ever-increasing popularity of video-sharing sites, like YouTube, provide visual means to communicate these opinions, often in a more compelling manner than in blogs or other web postings.

One sector of this problem deals with information on immunizations. A recent study has been conducted at the University of Toronto on the availability of immunization information on YouTube, and the results were less than favorable as to the accuracy of the YouTube information.

Searches were performed using the keywords “vaccination” and “immunization,” resulting in 153 relevant videos in English that were used for the study. The videos were then grouped into three categories: negative, positive and ambiguous.

Videos were categorized as positive if the central message was in favor of immunization, stressing the benefits and safety of a particular vaccine.

Negative videos stressed the dangers and risks of vaccines, but also objected to immunizations on moral and religious grounds.

Ambiguous videos were either ambivalent or contained some form of controversy or debate.

73 (48%) of the videos were positive, 49 (32%) were negative and 31 (20%) were ambiguous. The topic of childhood vaccines was the most popular topic, accounting for 38 of the 153 videos (25%).

The study showed that negative videos in general had many more views, and had a higher mean star rating compared to positive videos. Among positive videos, public service announcements, which included videos done by government agencies, were among the least viewed and the lowest rated.

The conclusion of the study stated that these highly viewed and rated negative videos “often contradicted the reference standard” of immunization information (taken from official immunization guides in the United States and Canada).

The recommendation of the study is that “Clinicians therefore need to be aware of Internet video-sharing sites and should be prepared to respond to patients who obtain their health information from these sources. The potential use of these sites for effective communication by health professionals should also be considered.”

One must use caution and good-sense when getting medical information on the Internet. YouTube and other accessible information sharing sites can be useful, but should never be taken literally without proper standards and properly substantiated evidence.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Wilson, Kumanan. Keelan, Jennifer. Pavri-Garcia, Vera. Tomlinson, George. December 2007. Journal of the American Medical Association. Vol. 298 No. 21.

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