Lies and half-truths are part of the dark side of the internet. And when this false information is about life-saving vaccines, it can be deadly.
Yesterday I spoke in a debate marking World Immunisation Week. There is a dangerous increase in websites spreading false information about vaccination. This leads some well-meaning parents to refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated against deadly diseases including meningitis and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
Social media companies and internet providers must do more to challenge pseudo-scientific or patently false information. While I was having cancer treatment, I was astounded by the sheer volume of unqualified, non-medical people willing to give pseudo-medical advice online, when it would not be allowed offline. In my speech, I called for several government departments to work together with technology companies to challenge this worrying trend.
It is no coincidence that we refer to social media as spreading information ‘virally’. Diseases and information both cross international boundaries freely. I believe our Department for International Development needs to take a greater role in this fight. Those living in some of the world’s poorest countries may be particularly susceptible to false information. I am grateful to the medical staff who carry out life-saving vaccination programmes around the world.
During the debate, I also spoke at length about the value of vaccines in tackling anti-microbial resistance. This is a global problem, which if left unchecked, could cause an estimated 10 million deaths worldwide by 2050. We must be proud of what we have achieved globally, but there is still much to do. We must support our scientists developing new vaccines.