Consumer Health Digest #19-08

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 10, 2019

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.

Web giants announce plans to curb anti-vaccine propaganda. After Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) sent letters to the chief executive officers of Google, Facebook, and Amazon objecting to unfounded and debunked claims about vaccines on their respective platforms.

A recently reported study revealed a significant impact on communications about vaccines on Twitter from Russian trolls and sophisticated bots that promote discord about vaccination and from anti-vaccination messages by disseminators of malware, unsolicited commercial content, and other disruptive materials that violate Twitter's terms of service. [Broniatowski DA and others. Weaponized health communication: Twitter bots and Russian trolls amplify the vaccine debate. American Journal of Public Health. 108:1378-1384, 2018]

Social media may be a small contributor to the all-too-common problem of vaccine hesitancy/refusal. The availability of vaccine misinformation through sources such as books and an estimated nearly 500 anti-vaccine Web sites may have greater impact. [Belluz J. Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube are cracking down on fake vaccine news. Vox. Mar 7, 2019]

20 states have introduced anti-vaccination bills. At least 20 states have introduced bills this year that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, would (a) broaden the reasons why parents can exempt kids from getting vaccines even if there isn't a medical need and (b) require doctors to provide more information on the risks of vaccines. [Lou M. Griggs B. Even with measles outbreaks across the US, at least 20 states have proposed anti-vaccination bills. CNN. Mar 6, 2019] These misguided legislative efforts coincide with reports of 206 individual cases of measles confirmed in 11 states during the first two months of 2019. The majority of those cases were among nonvaccinated people. [Measles cases and outbreaks. CDC. Mar 4, 2019] The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is very safe. Thanks to a highly effective vaccination program in the United States and improved measles control in the Americas region, measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000.

Consumer health textbook available online. The 576-page 9th edition of the 2012 college textbook Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decision is newly available at no cost to Kindle Unlimited readers or for purchase as a Kindle edition for $9.99. The book, authored by a team headed by Dr. Stephen Barrett, provides a panoramic view of the U.S. health marketplace and tells how to distinguish valid health claims from those that are misleading or fraudulent. Although some of the economic statistics in the book are outdated, the basic information and recommended strategies for consumers remain relevant today. A Kindle device is not needed to read the book. Free reader apps are downloadable for iOS, Android, Mac and PC.

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This page was posted on March 11, 2019.