Washington: Twitter has emerged as a popular and reliable source for receiving and sharing new information about vaccines, a new US study has found.
Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin analysed 9,510 vaccination-related tweets from one week in January, 2012 to determine the most popular and influential messages.
A final sample of 2,580 tweets that had received engagement through re-posting and sharing was then coded for frequency of sharing, tone toward vaccinations, links to sources (eg, news outlets, advocacy groups, or healthcare providers), and whether the claims being made in each tweet were scientifically substantiated.
Overall, 33 per cent of the 2,580 tweets carried a positive tone about vaccines, 54 per cent were neutral, and 13 per cent were negative.
Of the 14 per cent of tweets that contained medical information, more than two-thirds offered content substantiated by scientific research, according to an Elsevier statement.
The most popular messages concerned a potential children`s malaria vaccine, development of the NeuVax E-75 vaccine for breast cancer, the effectiveness of a herpes vaccine in women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention`s recommendation of a human papilloma virus vaccination for boys, potential approval for a lung cancer vaccine, and a blog post discrediting vaccine-autism connections.
Frequent information sources shared through tweets included health-specific sites such as WebMD (16 per cent of 341 links), US media such as The New York Times (13 per cent), medical organisations such as the American Medical Association (12 per cent), and digital news aggregators including the Huffington Post (10 per cent).
"News and health organisations received mostly positive attention in comparison with political or advocacy groups, indicating users are favourably viewing established sources in their health-information seeking," the authors stated.
"In this sample, it appears that Twitter users share mostly reputable information and sources while actively mobilising others to seek reliable health information," they said.
"Results of the snapshot can help explain what social media content patients consume and respond to, as well as help determine directions for educational campaigns," they said.
The study was published in the American Journal of Infection Control, the official publication of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC).