Vaccination Controversy Spills Over to Video Sharing Site YouTube

There is a growing debate over the necessity of the number of vaccines administered today. The controversy often surrounds a number of issues, such as pharmaceutical company lobbying to require administration of vaccinations that critics say have not undergone adequate testing.

For example, many states have pending bills that would require young girls to be vaccinated against HPV with Merck’s Gardasil. Currently only Virginia has passed a bill, as controversy has stalled bills in other states. The Virginia bill requires girls entering the sixth grade to be vaccinated, though it allows parents to opt their daughters out.

In February, 2007, Merck & Co. discontinued its lobbying of state
legislatures in an attempt to make it mandatory for girls to be inoculated with

Others argue that over-vaccination will have long term detrimental effects on human immune systems. In the Journal Immunology Today researchers wrote:

Modern vaccinations, fear of germs and obsession with hygiene are depriving the immune system of the information input upon which it is dependent. This fails to maintain the correct cytokine balance and fine-tune T-cell regulation, and may lead to increased incidences of allergies and autoimmune diseases. If humans continue to deprive their immune systems of the input to which evolution has adapted it, it may be necessary to devise ways of replacing it artificially.

In a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, University of Toronto researchers have uncovered widespread misinformation in related videos on YouTube.

The researchers, Dr. Kumanan Wilson and Dr. Jennifer Keelan, analyzed 153 videos about vaccination and immunization on YouTube, a popular online video-sharing site. Researchers found that more than half of the videos portrayed childhood, HPV, flu and other vaccinations negatively or ambiguously.

Of those videos, researchers report that about 45 per cent contained messages that contradict the 2006 Canadian Immunization Guide, which provides national guidelines for immunization practices. The Canadian recommendations are similar to guidelines from the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"YouTube is increasingly a resource people consult for health information, including vaccination," says first author Keelan, an assistant professor in U of T’s Department of Public Health Sciences. "Our study shows that a significant amount of immunization content on YouTube contradicts the best scientific evidence at large. From a public health perspective, this is very concerning."

The research team also found that videos skeptical of vaccinations—many of them highly provocative and powerful—received more views and better ratings by YouTube users than those videos that portray immunizations in a positive light.

"Health care professionals need to be aware that individuals critical of immunization are using YouTube to communicate their viewpoints and that patients may be obtaining information from these videos," says Wilson, senior author and an associate professor with U of T’s Department of Medicine. "YouTube users also need to be aware of this, so they can filter information from the site accordingly."

"The findings also indicate that public health officials should consider how to effectively communicate their viewpoints through Internet video portals," Wilson says.


  • Journal of the American Medical Association, December 5, 2007
  • Universtiy of Toronto
  • Immunol Today, 1998 Mar;19(3):113-6.

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