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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A qualitative study of the coverage of influenza vaccination on Dutch news sites and social media websites

Birthe A Lehmann*, Robert AC Ruiter and Gerjo Kok

Author Affiliations

Department of Work & Social Psychology, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University, P.O. box 616, 6200, MD Maastricht, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:547  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-547

Published: 5 June 2013

Abstract

Background

Information about influenza and the effectiveness of vaccination against influenza is largely available on the Internet, and may influence individual decision making about participation in future influenza vaccination rounds. E-health information has often been found to be inaccurate, or even to contradict Health Authority recommendations, especially when it concerns controversial topics.

Methods

By means of an online media monitoring programme, Dutch news sites and social media websites were scanned for the Dutch counterparts of the terms influenza, vaccination, vaccine and epidemic during February, March and April 2012. Data were processed with QSR NVivo 8.0 and analysed using a general inductive approach.

Results

Three overarching themes were found in both media sources: (1) the (upcoming) influenza epidemic, (2) general information regarding the virus, its prevention and treatment, and (3) uncertainty and mistrust regarding influenza vaccination. Social media tended to report earlier on developments such as the occurrence of an influenza epidemic. The greatest difference was that in social media, influenza was not considered to be a serious disease, and more opposition to the flu shot was expressed in social media, as compared to news media.

Conclusions

News media and social media discussed the same topics regarding influenza, but differed in message tone. Whereas news media reports tended to be more objective and non-judgmental, social media more critically evaluated the harmfulness of influenza and the necessity of the flu shot. Media may influence decision making and behaviours of Internet users and may thereby influence the success of vaccination campaigns and recommendations made by health authorities. Social media may be more of a problem in this sense, since it is neither controlled nor censored. Future research should investigate the actual impact of Internet media on the influenza decision making process of its users.

Keywords:
E-health; Social media; Influenza; Influenza vaccination