Online Program

Why are anti-vaccine messages so persuasive? A content analysis of anti-vaccine websites to inform the development of vaccine promotion strategies

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 : 10:30 a.m. - 10:40 a.m.

Meghan Moran, PhD, Health, Behavior & Society, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
Kristen Everhart, M.A., Communication Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE
Melissa Lucas, M.A., Department of Communication, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
Erin Pricket, MA, University of San Diego, San Diego, CA
Ashley Morgan, MA, Reality Changers, San Diego, CA
Background: Although childhood vaccines are an extremely important tool to prevent disease, an increasing number of parents opt to delay vaccinating their children or refuse vaccination altogether. Efforts to persuade vaccine hesitant parents through educational and misinformation-correcting messages have been largely unsuccessful. Understanding how anti-vaccine messages produce such strongly held anti-vaccine attitudes can inform the development of vaccine promotion strategies.


Objective: We sought to understand the tactics anti-vaccine advocates use to persuade parents against vaccination. 

Methods: We conducted a content analysis of 480 anti-vaccine websites. Four coders coded 480 websites for: content of the vaccine misinformation presented, source of the vaccine misinformation and the types of persuasive tactics used.  We also coded for behaviors and values co-promoted by the websites that could help vaccine promotion efforts develop better targeted materials.

Results: Anti-vaccine websites contained a considerable amount of misinformation; primarily that vaccines were dangerous (65.6%), cause autism (62.2%) and “brain injury” (41.1%). Websites used both scientific evidence (64.7%) and anecdotes (30.0%) to support these claims. Values such as choice (41.0%), freedom (20.5%) and individuality (17.4%) were used. Commonly co-promoted behaviors included the use of alternative medicine (18.8%) and homeopathy (10.2%), and eating a healthy (18.5%) or organic (5.2%) diet.  Cleanisng one’s body of toxins (7.1%), breastfeeding (5.5%) and religiosity were also co-promoted (6.8%).

Conclusions: Anti-vaccine messages effective tactics to persuade parents against vaccination, including using both credible (scientific) and relatable (parents’ anecdotes) sources, and appealing to parents’ values and lifestyles. Clinicians and practitioners can leverage these tactics to promote vaccinations.

Learning Areas:

Administer health education strategies, interventions and programs
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs
Public health or related education
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Identify persuasive tactics commonly used to promote anti-vaccine attitudes and beliefs. Explain how these tactics can be used to persuade parents in favor of vaccination. Describe at least two ways this study’s findings can be translated into vaccine promotion messages.

Keyword(s): Immunizations, Child Health Promotion

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have received extensive training in persuasive health communication. I conceptualized this study and led the research activities, analysis and interpretation and write up of the results.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.