Media sways support for HPV vaccine

U. MINNESOTA (US) — Controversy surrounding state laws that require young girls to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus diminishes public support for the vaccine.

News coverage about HPV vaccine requirements tends to amplify the controversy, possibly leading to negative attitudes among the public about the value of the HPV vaccine or even about other vaccines, according to a new study.

Researchers conducted an Internet-based survey to a randomly selected sample of participants representative of the U.S. population.

Participants were assigned to two groups who were then exposed to two different hypothetical news briefs about legislative action related to the HPV vaccine: one that presented the HPV vaccine as enjoying widespread support and the other positioning the vaccine as controversial.

Details appear in the November issue of the journal Health Affairs.

The study, the first of its kind to examine directly the tie between controversy about a piece of health policy portrayed in the news media and public support for the policy, suggests that prolonged exposure to controversy has the potential to erode public support for the policy.

“This research raises important questions about how the news media’s tendency to report on controversy shapes public opinion about health policy,” says Sarah Gollust, assistant professor of public health at the University of Minnesota.

Researchers also found that while support for HPV vaccine legislation waned in the shadow of controversy, support for other vaccines remained unchanged, an encouraging finding, Gollust says.

Some public health experts have worried that publicized controversy over the HPV vaccine could lead to public concerns about other childhood vaccines, a particularly important issue because of recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like whooping cough and measles.

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