6 Ways Doctors Can Use Social Media to Fight Vaccine Myths and Build Trust

How Doctors Can Use Social Media to Fight Vaccine Myths and Build Trust

Vaccines are one of modern medicine’s greatest triumphs, preventing countless illnesses and saving millions of lives. Yet, the rise of social media has brought a surge of vaccine misinformation, eroding public confidence and hindering vaccination efforts. Doctors, as trusted sources of medical knowledge, have a crucial role to play in dispelling these myths on social media platforms. 

“The presence of physicians online is really important because it helps to filter through some of the noise that’s online as well,” says Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett-Helaire, one of the lead scientists behind the COVID-19 vaccine. “If people are seeing the Internet as their first encounter with a fact or piece of information, the more and more that we have doctors online kind of helping to break through some of the noise that’s not necessarily correct is extremely helpful.”

Here’s how they can effectively engage in this vital online battle.

Building Trust and Authority

“I do not think doctors know how powerful it is to be thought of as such a trusted messenger,” Joanna Katzman, MD, a neurologist Director of Project ECHO’s Vaccine Confidence program, tells BDOPro. “I don’t think they realize they have that in their armamentarium.”

Central to a doctor’s online presence is establishing credibility. Bios that showcase qualifications, affiliations with reputable institutions, and board certifications demonstrate expertise. Regularly sharing links to peer-reviewed studies and articles from trusted health organizations like the CDC and the WHO positions the doctor as a reliable source of information.

Doctors should also steer patients away from dubious claims by teaching them how to evaluate sources critically. As Dr. Corbett-Helaire states, “Doing your own research means that you understand who the trusted sources of information are for a particular issue.”

Tailoring the Message

Social media thrives on variety. Doctors can create engaging content that caters to different learning styles. Short, informative videos can address specific vaccine myths. Infographics highlighting key facts about vaccine safety and efficacy can be visually appealing and easily shared. Live Q&A sessions allow for real-time interaction with the audience, fostering a sense of community and trust.

Addressing Concerns with Empathy

Vaccine hesitancy often stems from genuine concerns. Doctors should acknowledge these worries and address them with empathy. Explaining the rigorous testing vaccines undergo before approval, the role of side effects, and the benefits of herd immunity demonstrates a commitment to open communication. Framing the message around protecting oneself, loved ones, and the community resonates emotionally.

“We really try to break the cycle right away,” says Dr. Katzman adds. “If a patient comes in and says ‘I just saw this on Facebook that the vaccine will kill me,’ you don’t say ‘That’s crazy.’ Instead, gently ask ‘do you have evidence for that?'”

Countering Misinformation Without Fanning Flames

Social media thrives on controversy. Engaging in heated arguments with anti-vaxxers can backfire, spreading misinformation further. Instead, doctors can focus on factual corrections. Briefly identify the myth, then provide a clear, concise rebuttal with links to credible sources. Avoid using inflammatory language or attacking individuals.

“[If you] see something, say something,” said Dr. Katzman. “Go back to your evidence-based knowledge very gently in a non-defensive way and say, “Well this is where I got the evidence, here is my data.”

When doctors can calmly listen, build trust, explain processes simply and respond to concerns with facts, it helps lower the temperature and defuse vaccine misinformation and hesitancy. “You gotta be able to at least be open and honest on the table and acknowledge where your limitations are,” Stephen Cook, MD, MPH, a pediatrician at the University of Rochester Medical Center, tells BDOPro.

Collaboration is Key

The fight against vaccine misinformation is most effective as a collective effort. Doctors can collaborate with other health care professionals, public health organizations, and patient advocacy groups to amplify their message and reach a wider audience. Shared social media campaigns and joint live streams can create a more unified voice for vaccine advocacy.

“A lot of professional [medical] organizations are offering doctors to get some training in medical communication [and]  immediate communication,” adds Dr. Cook.

Addressing Online Harassment

Unfortunately, trolls and online harassment are realities of social media. Doctors should have a plan in place to deal with negativity. Having clear community guidelines that set expectations for respectful dialogue can be helpful. Ignoring negativity, reporting abusive comments, and blocking repeat offenders protects the doctor’s mental well-being and ensures a safe space for productive discussions.

“It’s exhausting. It’s draining and, you know, and it’s not part of our job,” Dr. Cook admits. “And our job is already busy, so it is a tough balance.”

While debunking every myth can feel like a Sisyphean task, physicians have an indispensable voice in rising above the disinformation fray. “I follow tons of doctors online and their various expertise is important to me,” says Dr. Corbett-Helaire. “The presence of physicians online is really important.”

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