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Does an “echo chamber” of information impede flu vaccination for children?

This year, nearly a third of parents surveyed in one national poll said they were not planning to get their child the flu vaccine. Those parents who declined to get their child vaccinated may have been exposed to a limited range of information. Depending on which sources that parents trust and turn to, inaccurate information can greatly influence their decision on getting their child vaccinated. Flu vaccinations are recommended for all children 6 months and older, but almost a third of parents say they don’t plan on getting their child vaccinated this year. Four in 10 parents say that they base their decision about flu vaccines on what they read and hear and are much less likely to have their child vaccinated when compared to parents who follow their physician’s recommendation.

Parents who did not or were unlikely to get their children vaccinated cited their family, friends, and other parents that made them doubt the effectiveness of a flu vaccination. Additionally, parents who chose not to vaccinate cited seven times as many sources that made them doubt the effectiveness of vaccinations compared to sources in support of vaccination. Having a large volume of negative information in an “echo chamber” of sorts makes it less likely that those parents will change their minds.

The poll’s codirector, Sarah Clark, states that there could be several explanations for this behavior. Parents could seek out specific information sources or people who support their particular position on vaccines, so what people hear and read are largely based on pre-established opinions, and only get reinforced by specific sources. Others may be exposed to a broader range of information and opinions, but selectively remember those that support their decision on whether their child will get a flu vaccine. For families that are not solely influenced by the advice of health care providers, different options for conveying information may be needed.

This topic relates to information cascades as we’ve been covering in class. An information cascade starts when a small group of individuals share information, and that information may be passed to more and more individuals as this information builds greater credibility. However, if this information is incorrect, that initial endorsement can lead to a widespread sharing of false information, which could be the case with flu vaccinations. As mentioned above, echo chambers can be created when individuals (or parents in this case) are biased toward the information they want to be exposed to. As a result, parents are also more likely to share opinions and articles that support their stance on flu vaccination more. This can become a confirmation bias of misinformation in this case.


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November 2018