GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) used text analytics software to analyse parental concerns about vaccines expressed on online discussion forums, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. The study, which ran for two months last year, allowed the company to learn what factors motivated parents to go ahead or delay vaccinating their children. The data collected was anonymized and contain no user identities.
What did they conclude? After the software arranged the themes of thousands of posts into topics like "safety" and "comfort", and sentiments like "happiness", the study found that parents often had a lack of "comfort" with the safety of vaccines, and were not convinced of the need to vaccinate their children against diseases like measles and mumps. Parents were also concerned about the correct timing for the shots, and found that "autism" was among the words most commonly associated with vaccinations.
Although neither the parents not the administrators of the websites were aware of the monitoring, the discussions all took place on publically-accessible discussion forums. "When you go into the public forums, that's where this conversation is taking place," said Dominic Hein, GSK. "And by listening to what our customers say to each other we can better understand their needs." GSK have concluded that they need to arm physicians with better materials to educate parents about vaccine safety information.
In a separate study that started in 2009, a team of researchers from Penn State University tracked the vaccine-related messages that Twitter users were exposed to, and then observed how those users expressed their own opinions about a new H1N1 influenza vaccine. Anti-vaccination statements appear to be socially contagious while pro-vaccination statements are not, according to a team of researchers who tracked 318,379 pro- and anti-vaccine messages on the social networking website. Read more: Negative vaccine sentiments are contagious on Twitter.
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