Although interruption of endemic measles was achieved in the Americas in 2002, Quebec experienced an outbreak in 2011 of 776 reported cases; 80% of these individuals had not been fully vaccinated. We analyzed readers' online responses to Canadian news articles regarding the outbreak to better understand public perceptions of measles and vaccination.
We searched Canadian online English and French news sites for articles posted between April 2011 and March 2012 containing the words "measles" and "Quebec". We included articles that i) concerned the outbreak or related vaccination strategies; and ii) generated at least ten comments. Two English and two bilingual researchers coded the unedited comments, categorizing codes to allow themes to emerge.
We analyzed 448 comments from 188 individuals, in response to three French articles and six English articles; 112 individuals expressed positive perceptions of measles vaccination (2.2 comments/person), 38 were negative (4.2 comments/person), 11 had mixed feelings (1.5 comments/person), and 27 expressed no opinion (1.1 comments/person). Vaccine-supportive themes involved the success of vaccination in preventing disease spread, societal responsibility to vaccinate for herd immunity, and refutation of the autism link. Those against measles vaccination felt it was a personal rather than societal choice, and conveyed a distrust of vaccine manufacturers, believing that measles infection is not only safe but safer than vaccination. Commenters with mixed feelings expressed uncertainty of the infection's severity, and varied in support of all vaccines based on perceived risk/benefit ratios.
The anti-vaccine minority's volume of comments translates to a disproportionately high representation on online boards. Public health messages should address concerns by emphasizing that immunization is always a personal choice in Canada, and that the pharmaceutical industry is strictly controlled. Illustrating the dangers of measles through personal stories, rather than scientific data only, may also serve to strengthen messaging.