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WHO partners with Facebook stop the spread of inaccurate vaccine information

Key Points
  • Facebook and Instagram will direct users searching for vaccine information to the WHO's data.
  • The measles outbreak in the U.S. has risen to over 1,200 confirmed cases across 31 states since the beginning of the year.
  • Public health experts have pointed to anti-vaccination content online as playing a major role in scaring parents away from getting their kids vaccinated.
A nurse holds up a one dose bottle and a prepared syringe of measles, mumps and rubella virus vaccine made by Merck at the Utah County Health Department on April 29, 2019 in Provo, Utah.
George Frey | Getty Images

The World Health Organization is partnering with Facebook to stop the spread of inaccurate information about vaccines, which the WHO calls "a major threat to global health that could reverse decades of progress made in tackling preventable diseases."

The international health group announced yesterday that Facebook and Instagram will direct users searching for vaccine data to the WHO's research in an effort to steer people to accurate information.

The launch of the new features comes in the midst of a measles outbreak in the United States. U.S. health officials have confirmed 1,234 measles cases across 31 states so far this year, more than three times all the cases last year and the greatest number of cases since 1992.

Outbreaks have also spread across the world, causing four European countries to lose their measles-free status.

Public health experts have pointed to anti-vaccination content online as playing a major role in scaring parents away from getting their kids vaccinated, resulting in outbreaks of measles and other illnesses.

The WHO and Facebook, which owns Instagram, have been in discussions for several months. Facebook's new notifications follow-up on the social media company's March efforts to lower rankings of anti-vaccination content on user's feeds.

Facebook's latest update includes new pop-ups that will be shown on both Facebook and Instagram when users search for content related to vaccines.

"Major digital organizations have a responsibility to their users — to ensure that they can access facts about vaccines and health. It would be great to see social and search platforms come together to leverage their combined reach," Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO's director general, said in a statement Wednesday.

U.S. users will be redirected to the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while those outside the U.S. will be redirected to the WHO website.

Other online companies have also taken steps to reduce bad information. Amazon pulled its anti-vaccination documentaries from its Prime video service, YouTube stopping running anti-vaccination ads and Pinterest only returns search results for "measles" and "vaccine safety" from legitimate health organizations.

"These online efforts must be matched by tangible steps by governments and the health sector to promote trust in vaccination and respond to the needs and concerns of parents," said Ghebreyesus.

Before widespread use of vaccines, measles led to more than 2 million deaths a year, according to the WHO.The use of vaccines resulted in an 80% drop in worldwide measles deaths between 2000 and 2017.

In 2017, the most recent year of data, measles infections caused 110,000 deaths around the world, according to the WHO.