The American Medical Association is urging the country's largest internet technology firms to clamp down on misinformation about vaccines in light of the ongoing series of measles outbreaks.
The nation's most influential physician organization on Wednesday sent a letter to the CEOs of Amazon, Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube expressing concern that their respective internet media channels are spreading false information about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and as a result have been driving parents to not immunize their children.
In a similar fashion, last month Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif) sent a letter to chief executives at Facebook and Google requesting they address false claims about vaccines made on their platforms.
Social media's role in creating vaccine hesitancy among parents has been the subject of at least two congressional hearings in as many months. At a March 5 hearing held by the Senate health committee, Washington state Health Secretary John Wiesman proposed that the federal government develop a national ad campaign to counter misinformation found online.
Several companies have taken steps to reduce vaccine misinformation in response to the criticism. On March 7, Facebook announced it would block advertisements that included false claims about vaccines and no longer show or recommend content that contained misinformation on its platform or on Instagram. In February, Pinterest announced it had blocked all vaccine-related searches on its platform in an effort to stop the spread of misinformation on anti-vaccination posts. Also, in the same month Google announced it had begun removing ads from videos that promote anti-vaccination content on YouTube.
In his letter, AMA CEO Dr. James Madara acknowledged the recent work companies have done to restrict content and ads that contain vaccine misinformation, but he also called on executives to provide their users with accurate vaccine information.
"With public health on the line and with social media serving as a leading source of information for the American people, we urge you to do your part to ensure that users have access to scientifically valid information on vaccinations, so they can make informed decisions about their families' health," Madara wrote. "We also urge you to make public your plans to ensure that users have access to accurate, timely, scientifically sound information on vaccines."
Health officials declared measles eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but the virus has made a comeback, with more than 2,100 reported cases occurring from 2010 to March 7, 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts say clusters of households within communities that have not vaccinated have led to those areas becoming hotspots for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Many of those neighborhoods have vaccination coverage rates that fall well below 95%, which is generally acknowledged as being the threshold to maintain herd immunity.