Parents' corner: new scientific paper analyzes vaccine education and discussions in a US online parenting forum

In 2019, following a decrease of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine’s coverage and a 30% rise in measles cases worldwide, the World Health Organization declared vaccine hesitancy one of the 10 biggest threats to global health. Alternative vaccination schedules are becoming more and more popular among parents: identifying them and understanding the determinants of their hesitancy toward vaccines could help addressing their concerns through targeted interventions.
In a new study  recently published on PLoS Computational Biology and mentioned on Nature a team of ISI Foundation researchers analyzes the activities of users engaging in discussion threads about vaccination on public online forum BabyCenter US.
By creating a Natural Language Processing pipeline and going through a rather huge database (more than one million comments of 201,986 users, posted from March 2008 to April 2019), scientists first identify parents who state their adherence to the recommended (RSUs) or alternative vaccination schedule (ASUs). Then they find that RSUs and ASUs have distinct interests and different experiences with vaccination, although they frequently share similar sources of information, like .gov websites. That means that a clearer communication of scientific results on institutional websites could be effective in addressing hesitancy, researchers say.

Another interesting finding is the open, unobstructed and dialogue-fostering nature of the forum. Network analysis shows that RSUs and ASUs communicate between each other on BabyCenter US much more than on alternative digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter, where the echo chambers phenomenon is more evident. These observations suggest that parenting fora may be a more suitable medium to develop intervention aiming to influence positively the vaccination behavior of parents.

Detecting adherence to the recommended childhood vaccination schedule from user-generated content in a US parenting forum”, Lorenzo Betti, Gianmarco De Francisci Morales, Laetitia Gauvin, Kyriaki Kalimeri, Yelena Mejova, Daniela Paolotti, Michele Starnini, PLoS Computational Biology, 26th April 2021.