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Addressing the Vaccine Crisis: The Digital World, Big Data, and Public Health

November 1, 2019 @ 9:00 am - 5:00 pm



Venue: James Bridges Theater, UCLA Melnitz Hall, 235 Charles E Young Dr., Los Angeles, CA – 90095
Register: RSVP link
Questions: Contact T.V. Singh

Vwani Roychowdhury
Timothy R. Tangherlini
Beth Glenn
Catherine Crespi
Roshan Bastani

Addressing the Vaccine Crisis: The Digital World, Big Data, and Public Health

The World Health Organization has identified vaccine hesitancy as one of the top threats to global health. This one-day symposium, hosted by UCLA faculty from Engineering, Humanities and Public Health, comes amid the growing attention to this potential crisis. We bring together experts from across public health, data science, culture analytics, sociology, and law to address the most pressing questions about vaccination resistance and chart a course for future action. This symposium is sponsored by the UCLA Institute for Digital Research & Education (IDRE).

Agenda: Nov 1, 2019 (9:00 AM – 5:00 PM)

9:00 – 9:15 Vice Provost Timothy Brewer and Warren Mori (UCLA)

Opening remarks

9:15-9:40 Roshan Bastani (UCLA)

Introductions and Overview of Vaccine Crisis

9:40-10:15 James Cherry (UCLA Medical School)

The Benefits of Routine Immunization

10:15-10-45 Andrea Kitta (East Carolina University)

Vaccination: Legend, Rumor, and Alternative Facts

10:45-11:00 Break
11:00-11:40 David Broniatowski (George Washington University)

Hidden Agendas for Online Vaccination: Trolls, Bots & Misinformation

11:40-12:15 Jennifer Reich (University of Colorado Denver)

Vaccine Refusal and the Culture of Individualist Parenting

12:15-12:30 Q/A
12:30-1:45 Lunch
1:45-2:20 Kate Starbird (University of Washington)

Conceptualizing disinformation campaigns as collaborative work in online communities

2:20-2:55 Sheila Murphy and collaborators (USC)

Does Mommy Really Know Best? Testing Source and Narrative Format Efficacy to Combat Childhood Vaccine Misinformation

2:55-3:15 Vwani Roychowdhury (UCLA)

The theory, practicality and ethics of Online Campaigns for Vaccine Awareness

3:15-3:30 Coffee Break
3:30-4:05 Emilio Ferrara (USC)

Online manipulation and public health: challenges and approaches

4:05-4:40 Dorit Rubinstein Reiss (UC Hastings College of law)

Legal Remedies to the Vaccine Crisis: What we can, and what we should do 

4:40-4:55 Q/A
5:00 Wrap up

Vaccination: Legend, Rumor, and Alternative Facts

Andrea Kitta
East Carolina University

Abstract: In spite of the success of the childhood inoculation movement, the public has increasingly asked questions about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Recent research and media coverage also shows that parents are increasingly choosing to not vaccinate their children. Factors isolated by researchers include: a lack of understanding of how the vaccine works, religious or philosophical objections, fear of government control in areas of personal choice, concern about safety and/or efficacy, beliefs that vaccine-preventable diseases do not pose a serious health risk, certainty that alternative treatments are superior, concerns that vaccines are promoted for the sake of financial gain, and belief that vaccines are not “natural.”

This presentation explores vernacular beliefs and practices that surround decisions to not vaccinate with the primary aim of providing concrete recommendations for improving inoculation promotion programs. The rationale of this work is consistent with a number of studies that apply vernacular health belief research to health education and health promotion policy. These studies use as their central premise the notion that health education must be based on community understandings of risk, and that such understandings require ethnographic investigation. Ideally, health education programs are community-based; involve collaborative partnerships between communities, researchers, and service providers; and make use of local concerns. Understanding health choices is dependent on exploring the variety of cultural concerns and influences that constitute risk for the communities and individuals in question. Risk categories and risk perception are multifaceted, culture-bound, personal, and political.

My research draws on ethnography, media, Internet, and narrative analyses to explore the vernacular explanatory models used in inoculation decision-making. The majority of knowledge, belief, and behavior studies on inoculation decision-making are based on survey-style self-report. As has been shown consistently with health risks, risk perception is not easily accessed through survey methods, but requires the greater ethnographic and qualitative study that a folklorist can provide. In order to even begin to understand this language, ethnographic research skills are necessary as vaccination narratives are presented and communicated in a variety of ways through the use of traditional narratives and beliefs. The most common genres used in vaccination discourse are contemporary legends, rumor, and personal experience narratives, or in some cases, a combination of the three.


Hidden Agendas for Online Vaccination: Trolls, Bots & Misinformation

David Broniatowski
George Washington University

Abstract: This talk will cover the ways in which state-sponsored and profit-seeking entities use health communication about vaccines on social media to accomplish a variety of malicious tasks, including promoting discord, spreading malware, and spamming. We will cover the different types of malicious actors on Twitter and the specific ways these are used to achieve the goals identified above, and some promising theoretical approaches to combating them.


Vaccine Refusal and the Culture of Individualist Parenting

Jennifer A. Reich
University of Colorado Denver

Abstract: Parents who reject some or all vaccines are often described as ignorant, anti-science, selfish, or even delusional about the seriousness of vaccine-preventable diseases. Yet these popular views may not capture the more complex processes that lead some parents to opt out of vaccines for their children. Using data from in-depth interviews and ethnographic observation with parents who refuse some or all vaccines, I argue that vaccine refusal is in many ways a logical response to cultural pressures that expect parents to actively manage consumption decisions and curate opportunities for their children, which include intense efforts to evaluate risk and benefit to children’s health. I conclude by suggesting some paths forward to support a parenting culture of shared responsibility that in turn could increase participation in public health interventions like childhood vaccination.


Conceptualizing disinformation campaigns as collaborative work in online communities

Kate Starbird
University of Washington

Abstract: The pervasive spread of mis- and disinformation in online spaces is a critical concern for society. Broadly, these dynamics function to reduce trust in democratic institutions, including government, media, and science. They also have more specific and direct effects. For example, the spread of misinformation about vaccines is now having measurable (negative) impacts on public health. In this talk, I will situate the vaccine “debate” (or anti-vaccine movement) within a broader online ecosystem of mis- and disinformation. Using case studies of political disinformation, I will describe how online activist communities (generally) can become targets and vectors of political disinformation—and how they integrate diverse actors with diverse motivations (from ideological to political to financial) into seemingly organic action. I will also show how anti-vaccine activism and discourse intersects with other disinformation campaigns, including political disinformation with ties to specific state actors.


Does Mommy Really Know Best? Testing Source and Narrative Format Efficacy to Combat Childhood Vaccine Misinformation

Sheila T. Murphy and Ashley L. Phelps,
University of Southern California (USC)

Abstract: Pro-vaccine messages correcting misinformation about vaccines by highlighting the risks of illness are ineffective in changing vaccine hesitant attitudes. Rather attitudes about childhood vaccinations are heavily influenced by injunctive (what one should do) and descriptive (what others are doing) norms. A 2×2 experiment tests the relative efficacy of a similar (mommy vlogger) versus an expert source (female pediatrician) and information format (narrative testimonial versus nonnarrative tutorial) using an increasingly popular format for health information, YouTube.


Online manipulation and public health: challenges and approaches

Emilio Ferrara
University of Southern California (USC)

Abstract: Online misinformation is endemic of social media, and bots and trolls have been exacerbating the spread of inaccurate information. Their influence has been shown in domains from politics to finance, and public health is no exception: conspiracy theories, anti-science and unscientific content about vaccines, epidemic outbreaks, tobacco, and other health-related rumors can have adverse effects and contribute toward public health crises. I will illustrate the problem of public health misinformation with use cases that include an early study of the Ebola 2014 outbreak, recent vaccine debates on various platforms, the role of bots in the tobacco-related product promotion, and finally provide computational tools to combat online misinformation, detect bots and trolls, and characterize their activity, behavior, and strategies.


Legal Remedies to the Vaccine Crisis: What we can, and what we should do

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss
UC Hastings College of law

Abstract: This presentation will address the range of legal options facing states, starting from the basic position that states have extensive leeway to regulate to increase childhood vaccines. It will address potential legal limits posed by the First Amendment, states rights to education, and parental rights, suggest a continuum of option, and end with several considerations to guide the appropriate legislative choices.



November 1, 2019
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
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James Bridges Theater, UCLA Melnitz Hall
235 Charles E Young Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90095 United States
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Institute for Digital Research and Education (IDRE)
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