Facebook management said it would ensure that users of its platform- Instagram, Facebook Search, Groups, Pages and forums – where people seek out information and advice will only find facts about vaccines from WHO. This is aimed at curbing misinformation about vaccines which has caused vaccine hesitancy among many parents especially in the developed world where progress had previously been made on disease prevention.

In other to achieve this feat, Facebook rolled out a new feature on Facebook and Instagram to combat the spread of anti-vaccine information. Facebook said that educational pop-up window will appear on the social media platform when users’ searches for vaccine-related contents. User will be directed to visit reliable health agencies such as WHO, UNICEF, Bill and Melinda Gates, CDD and other credible health-related sites. WHO director-general, Tedros Ghebreyesus, in a statement released on its website said access to the right information on social media has become important to curb misinformation about vaccines. The statement said Facebook will direct million of its users to WHO’s accurate and reliable vaccine information in several languages.

WHO and Facebook have been in discussions for several months to ensure people can access authoritative information on vaccines and reduce the spread of inaccuracies. “This is to ensure that vital health messages reach people who need them most,” it said. Vaccine misinformation is a major threat to global health that can reverse decades of progress made in tackling preventable diseases. To ensure that misinformation on vaccines is reduced, social media platforms are being enjoined to serve as a watchdog to vaccine information available in the public domain.

Public health experts have pointed to anti-vaccination contents online as a major play to vaccine hesitancy by parents. They said the misinformation about vaccines has heightened measles outbreak in the United States and Europe where four countries last week lost their measles free status.

However, Facebook is not the only social media platform to commit to curbing the spread of fake news about vaccines. Facebook had previously lowered the ranking of groups and pages that spread misinformation about vaccines in the News Feeds and search options. But now, the educational pop-up window is another step it is taking to curb misinformation. Also last week, another social media platform, Pinterest announced that searches for measles, vaccine safety and other vaccine-related contents would only turn out results from reputable public health organisations. Also, Amazon earlier in the year had removed anti-vaccine documentaries from its sites.

WHO said getting accurate information about vaccines has become important because vaccine misinformation can reverse the progress made in disease prevention overtime. It said vaccine misinformation is a major threat to global health that could reverse decades of progress made in tackling preventable diseases. Mr Ghebreyesus said many debilitating and deadly diseases can be effectively prevented by vaccines. Think measles, diphtheria, hepatitis, polio, cholera, yellow fever, influenza…

“Major digital organisations 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. We want digital actors doing more to make it known around the world that #VaccinesWork,” he said. Mr Ghebreyesus also called for innovations that support healthy behaviours to save lives and protect the vulnerable.

He said many children whose parents fully support vaccination currently lack access to these life-saving tools. “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. Let’s not miss more opportunities to prevent the spread of some of the world’s deadliest diseases,” he said.

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