13,222 Polio in Ukraine through a Social Media Lens, The Drum Beat, 736, June 7 2017

The Drum BeatPolio in Ukraine through a Social Media Lens – The Drum Beat 736
June 7, 2017
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As part of its participation in the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP), The Communication Initiative (The CI) is tasked with supporting country-focused reviews of polio communication, with extensive and growing reference to the relationship with routine immunisation. Several dynamics within Ukraine led The CI to focus on social networks and social media for this review, which has resulted in the detailed social media analysis on immunisation in Ukraine that is summarised here:

Conducted by Ukrainian researcher Anna Postovoitova, this study used a unique experimental approach of social media mapping to discover platforms where communities of parents, health and education professionals, and other civil society actors gather naturally. Specifically, the study examined how different communities in Ukraine use social media to communicate and search for information by applying a qualitative approach based on manual search and monitoring of popular and thematic social media spaces on Facebook and Vkontakte networks. Results of this analysis suggest several mechanisms to increase active and accurate communication about vaccines and immunisation across both Facebook and Vkontakte and the spaces and processes within each. To read a complete summary and to access the full study, click here.

To help guide readers of that study, this Drum Beat provides background information on the impetus for the study – the considerable obstacles to achieving broad-scale vaccination and immunisation of children in Ukraine – and the thinking beyond the social media analysis that we pursued as part of this initiative.


  • 1. Ellyn Ogden in Ukraine. Polio Outbreak in Ukraine Media Briefing
    In a press briefing held in Kyiv, Ukraine, on October 9 2015, USAID coordinator for polio eradication Ellyn Ogden expressed her deep concern about the dire state of vaccination coverage in Ukraine. Ogden explains that Ukraine is far behind schedule on the outbreak response. For instance, there is a lack of support for Ukraine’s brave and highly competent frontline workers (FLWs) who are caught in the crossfire, with rumours, myths, and rhetoric undermining confidence in the health care system.
  • 2. Polio in Ukraine: Crisis, Challenge, and Opportunity
    by Judyth L. Twigg
    Written for and published by the Global Health Policy Center of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, this paper explores the aftermath of a polio outbreak: 2 children contracted polio in the Transcarpathian region in western Ukraine in August 2015 after a 19-year absence of the disease in that country. “Social media and shell company-financed Internet ‘trolls’ regularly hype rumors about alleged vaccine toxicity, the existence of conspiracies masking the ‘truth’ that there was no polio outbreak at all, and the diabolical international plot underlying the entire outbreak storyline.” The author argues that “[t]he proper reaction from the global health community is a sober, realistic admission: we will almost certainly see a proliferation of infectious outbreaks in Ukraine and the Balkans, especially as some governments struggle with a continued massive influx of refugees.” She contends that the international community can take advantage of Uk! raine’s membership in Western institutions as a pressure point. [Mar 2016]
  • 3. Ukraine Polio Outbreak Containment [Video]
    This video from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) explores the response on the part of partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) to the above-mentioned polio outbreak of 2 cases of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (cVDPV1). The response started with the establishment of a communication task force to ensure proper planning, implementation, and coordination of a communication strategy. Organisers created a polio slogan with a distinct look and strong call for action. Ninety-five percent of Ukrainians were reached through a carefully selected media mix, including social media, concentrating on areas with low coverage and tackling negative rumours and doubts about the quality of the vaccine. Due to the comprehensive behaviour change interventions, the level of support for immunisation among parents reached 74% in 2016, in comparison to 28% in 2008.
  • 4. Washington DC Roundtable Discussion on Immunisation for Vaccine-Preventable Disease and Polio in Ukraine
    On June 8 2016, a high-level technical roundtable on immunisation and polio eradication in Ukraine was held in Washington DC, United States (US). The event, with technical support provided by The CI, brought together: senior polio and technical experts centrally involved in immunisation activities in Ukraine, people from within the North American Ukrainian diaspora with knowledge of and interest in immunisation, and global public health experts on communication, immunisation, and polio eradication
  • 5. See these summaries of some of the outputs of the roundtable:

What kinds of challenges and opportunities infuse your communication and media development, social and behavioural change work? This survey is a chance for you to let us know! We will report back on results and trends so you can gain insights from your peers in the network. Click here to lend your voice.

  • 6. Social Media as a Platform for Health-Related Public Debates and Discussions: The Polio Vaccine on Facebook
    by Daniela Orr, Ayelet Baram-Tsabari, and Keren Landsman
    Researchers undertook a project to map and describe the roles played by web-based mainstream media and social media as platforms for vaccination-related public debates and discussions during the polio crisis in Israel in 2013. In this paper, the researchers present data collected from the Israeli mainstream media and Facebook focusing on a specific content-driven group called “Parents talk about Polio vaccination”. The paper shares public voices, which the researchers contend should be seen as authentic (i.e., unmediated by the media or other political actors) and useful for policymaking purposes (in that social media can be a main channel of communication during health crises). [Nov 2016]
  • 7. The Measles Vaccination Narrative in Twitter: A Quantitative Analysis
    by Jacek Radzikowski, MS Comp Sc, Anthony Stefanidis, PhD, Kathryn H Jacobsen, MPH, PhD, Arie Croitoru, PhD, Andrew Crooks, PhD, and Paul L Delamater, PhD
    This case study showcases the emergence of a health narrative from social media content, exploring the reaction on Twitter to the outbreak of measles in the US in early 2015. The focus is on the intersection between this narrative (whose structure is implicit and emerges from the individual contributions, rather than being explicit and imposed by a certain authority) and a grass-roots antivaccination movement. The researchers note that, “by their nature, social media represent a transition from one-to-one health communications between clinicians and their patients to many-to-many communications between health care providers, patients, and broader communities. They also broaden the scope of health discussions, no longer focusing exclusively on reporting disease outbreaks but also addressing health care service, with patients sharing their experiences with various health providers.” [Jan 2016]
  • 8. Effective Vaccine Communication during the Disneyland Measles Outbreak
    by David A. Broniatowski, Karen M. Hilyard, and Mark Dredze
    In the context of the above-described measles outbreak, this retrospective observational study was designed to test Fuzzy-Trace Theory (FTT)’s prediction that vaccine-relevant articles expressing “a gist” are more likely to be shared on Facebook when compared to articles expressing verbatim statistics. The researchers coded 4,581 news articles with 4,000 words or fewer containing vaccine-related keywords published during the outbreak. After controlling for article length, readability, and presence of images, they found that statistics and gists were significant predictors of whether an article was likely to be shared at least once. “Public health officials seeking to increase vaccine uptake must recognize that verbatim statistical facts alone may not be persuasive.” [May 2016]
  • 9. Understanding Immunisation Awareness and Sentiment Through Social and Mainstream Media
    This brief describes a multi-country study by United Nations (UN) Global Pulse that was designed to track and analyse online conversations related to immunisation on social media and mainstream media in India, Kenya, Nigeria, and Pakistan. The project shows how methods including sentiment analysis, topic classification, and network analysis can be used to support public health workers and communication campaigns. [2015]
  • 10. Zika Vaccine Misconceptions: A Social Media Analysis
    by Mark Dredze, David A. Broniatowski, and Karen M. Hilyard
    This study analyses conversations about Zika vaccine conspiracy theories on social media in real time in an attempt to provide a method that could help officials debunk claims quickly enough to limit the damage they cause to vaccination rates. As the Zika virus spread through South America, conspiracy theories spread through social media (and eventually made their way into mainstream media). Much uncertainty still surrounds the origin and effects of the Zika virus. This has resulted in doubts about whether microcephaly is truly caused by the virus and whether future vaccinations will be safe. These suspicions, bolstered by social media posts, can have a lasting effect on people’s health-related decisions, the researchers said. [May 2016]
  • 11. Mapping Information Exposure on Social Media to Explain Differences in HPV Vaccine Coverage in the United States
    by Adam G. Dunn, Didi Surian, Julie Leask, Aditi Dey, Kenneth D. Mandl, and Enrico Coiera
    The research reported in this paper explored a healthcare decision that appears susceptible to influence of news and social media: the choice of administering the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to an adolescent. The aim was to determine whether measures of information exposure derived from Twitter could be used to explain differences in coverage in the US. In short: Vaccine coverage was lower in states where safety concerns, misinformation, and conspiracies made up higher proportions of information exposures. Although it is unclear whether decisions people made about vaccination were influenced by their exposure to certain tweets and media or whether they simply chose to inhabit an online community that reinforced their beliefs, the researchers conclude that studying Twitter communications could prove a faster, cheaper tool for governments to identify areas with high rates of vaccine hesitancy or refusal and the possible reasons at play. [Apr 2017]
  • 12. Understanding Vaccine Hesitancy in Canada: Results of a Consultation Study by the Canadian Immunization Research Network
    by Eve Dubé, Dominique Gagnon, Manale Ouakki, et al.
    Negative and false information about vaccination online and in social media was perceived to be the most important cause of vaccine hesitancy by participants in this Canadian consultation study. However, the researchers note that most studies are descriptive, and though many attribute the increase in vaccine hesitancy to negative vaccination-related content on the internet, they offer limited empirical evidence to support these claims. “[S]ocial media role in vaccine hesitancy creates a need to develop appropriate strategies for online communication; such strategies should aim to provide vaccine-supportive information, to address misinformation published online, and to correspond to parents’ needs and interests…” [Jun 2016]
  • 13. Engaging Social Media for Health Communication in Africa: Approaches, Results and Lessons
    by Adebayo Fayoyin
    This paper outlines the promise of social media in health communication in Africa and the major limitations of their application, followed by 5 illustrative case studies – one of them on Mobile Phones for Polio Campaign in Somalia. In exploring the shift toward e-health communication, Adebayo Fayoyin argues that social and digital technology has great potential for transforming health education and communication globally; for example, by eliminating some of the inherent limitations of traditional health communication through improved customisation, contexuality, interactivity, and mixed media utilisation. However, he suggests, significant caution is necessary with regard to assessing the true extent of its impact within the pathway of social and behaviour change. [Sep 2016]
  • See also:
    Social Media Strategy Framework
    Tracking Anti-Vaccination Sentiment in Eastern European Social Media Networks
    Evaluating Social Media Components of Health Communication Campaigns

  • 14. Social Media Analytics and Reporting Toolkit (SMART)
    The Visual Analytics for Command, Control, and Interoperability Environments (VACCINE) Center at Purdue University created this social media analysis system to provide analysts with scalable analysis and visualisation of social media posts. It allows end users to map, interactively explore, and navigate large volumes of data, topics, and anomalies that occur in real-time via social media networks such as Flickr, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.
  • 15. Vaccine Hesitancy: A Vade Mecum v1.0
    by Angus Thomson and Michael Watson
    This reference guide on vaccine hesitancy from the journal Vaccine draws upon existing evidence to propose practical recommendations for healthcare professionals and public health professionals, such as: Effectively engage with social media. Every country should have a trusted hub of resonant, trustworthy information, answers, stories, and videos that is the reference for the public when they have questions about vaccination. Reach comes through effective social media strategies that share content in multiple channels and develop and connect positive voices online. [Jan 2016]
  • 16. Social Media Strategy Development – A Guide to Using Social Media for Public Health Communication
    This guide from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) provides public health organisations with a practical approach to integrate social media into their overall communication activities. It focuses on identifying effective ways to use social media to enhance crisis, risk, and corporate communication with regard to communicable disease prevention and control. [May 2016]
  • See also:
    Virtual Immunization Connection Network (VICNetwork)
    How Scientists Can Reach out with Social Media
    The Health Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit
This issue of The Drum Beat was written by Kier Olsen DeVries.
The Drum Beat is the email and web network of The Communication Initiative Partnership.

Full list of the CI Partners:
ANDIBBC Media ActionBernard van Leer FoundationBreakthroughCiturna TVFundación ImaginarioFundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano (FNPI)Heartlines,Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication ProgramsMaternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP)MISAOpen Society FoundationsOxfam NovibPAHOThe Panos InstitutePuntos de EncuentroSAfAIDSSesame WorkshopSoul CitySTEPS InternationalUNAIDSUNICEFUniversidad de los Andes,World Health Organization (WHO)W.K. Kellogg Foundation

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The Editor of The Drum Beat is Kier Olsen DeVries.
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