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The Moran Team Study of 480 “Anti-Vax” Websites

A story circulating on the Internet is publicizing a new study that concludes much of the information on anti-vaccination websites promote “unscientific views about vaccinations” and “use pseudoscience and misinformation to spread the idea that vaccines are dangerous.”1 The research, presented at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Chicago, IL on November 3, was led by Meghan Bridgid Moran, PhD, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society in Baltimore, MD.2

According to Dr. Moran’s research team, which also included Kristen Everhart, MA of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Melissa Lucas, MA of the University of Maryland in College Park, Erin Pricket, MA of the University of San Diego, CA, and Ashley Morgan, MA of Reality Changers in San Diego, CA, the goal of the study was to “understand the tactics anti-vaccine advocates use to persuade parents against vaccination.”3

The team conducted a “content analysis” of 480 “anti-vaccine” websites.3 Four coders coded the websites for:

content of the vaccine misinformation presented, source of the vaccine misinformation and the types of persuasive tactics used.  We also coded for behaviors and values co-promoted by the websites that could help vaccine promotion efforts develop better targeted materials.3

The results of the study determines that…

Anti-vaccine websites contained a considerable amount of misinformation; primarily that vaccines were dangerous (65.6%), cause autism (62.2%) and “brain injury” (41.1%). Websites used both scientific evidence (64.7%) and anecdotes (30.0%) to support these claims. Values such as choice (41.0%), freedom (20.5%) and individuality (17.4%) were used. Commonly co-promoted behaviors included the use of alternative medicine (18.8%) and homeopathy (10.2%), and eating a healthy (18.5%) or organic (5.2%) diet.  Cleansing one’s body of toxins (7.1%), breastfeeding (5.5%) and religiosity were also co-promoted (6.8%).3

Moran and her team concluded that “anti-vaccine messages” employ “effective tactics” to convince parent against vaccinating their children, including both “credible (scientific) and relatable (parents’ anecdotes) sources, and appealing to parents’ values and lifestyles.” The Moran team, however, believes that doctors and other health care workers can “leverage these tactics to promote vaccinations.”

In other words, despite the apparent success of these websites, the study suggests that those who administer vaccines can use the information and arguments on the so-called anti-vaccination sites to their benefit. The underlying assumption is that the vaccine-related material on the websites is weak and can be easily disproven.

But there also appears to be an attempt at subterfuge here. Moran thinks that the “biggest global takeaway” from the study is that…

we need to communicate to the vaccine-hesitant parent in a way that resonates with them and is sensitive to their concerns. In our review, we saw communication for things we consider healthy, such as breastfeeding, eating organic, the types of behavior public health officials want to encourage. I think we can leverage these good things and reframe our communication in a way that makes sense to those parents resisting vaccines for their children.4

It is unclear which websites Moran and her team evaluated. What has been reported is that they consist of “personal websites, blogs, Facebook pages and health websites.”1 

It’s worth noting that the Bloomberg School of Public Health receives grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct vaccine research.5 The School is also the home of the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC), which operates a database known as the Vaccine Information Management System (VIMS)—a “Web-based tool designed to provide the international community with fast, accurate and secure data on the state of access to vaccines in 194 countries.”6

Additionally, the School has a program called the Johns Hopkins Vaccine Initiative aimed at promoting “collaborative and interdisciplinary vaccine research, education, and implementation efforts to improve health worldwide.”7 The program maintains collaborative efforts on vaccines with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).7

So whatever the primary motivations behind the study undertaken by Dr. Moran and her team, what is clear is that Moran’s employer is not a disinterested party.


1 Blaszczak-Boxe A. Anti-Vaccination Websites Use ‘Distorted’ Science, Researchers Find. Live Science Nov. 3, 2015.
2 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Meghan Moran, PhD.
3 American Public Health Association. Why are anti-vaccine messages so persuasive? A content analysis of anti-vaccine websites to inform the development of vaccine promotion strategies. APHA Nov.  3, 2015.
4 Anti-vaccine websites are misinforming parents, study says. MNT Nov. 3, 2015.
5 Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Vaccine Against Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Shows Promise in Early Trial. Press Release Nov. 5, 2015.
6 Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. VIMS – Vaccine Information Management System. International Vaccine Access Center.
7 Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Johns Hopkins Vaccine Initiative.

14 Responses to The Moran Team Study of 480 “Anti-Vax” Websites

  1. Erwin Alber Reply

    November 6, 2015 at 1:18 am

    Thanks for the interesting article! The problem vaccination advocates are up against is that vaccination is a dangerous fraud, and that anti-vaxers have the truth on their side!

    “Anti-vaccine websites contained a considerable amount of misinformation; primarily that vaccines were dangerous (65.6%), cause autism (62.2%) and “brain injury” (41.1%).”

    If vaccines are NOT dangerous, why has the US Vaccine Injury Compensation Court awarded $3 billion in compensation for vaccine-related injuries and deaths since it was established in 1986, and why has the US Supreme Court declared vaccines “unavoidably unsafe” in 2011?

    If vaccines don’t cause autism, why has a senior CDC scientist turned whistle blower confessed that he and

    his coworkers destroyed study data showing that vaccines indeed cause autism?

    There are also countless children who have suffered vaccine-related brain injuries.

    Vaccination is on its way out because as Lincoln once pointed out, one can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

    If vaccines were safe and effective, people would line up to have them and wouldn’t have to be coerced, and there would be no anti-vaccination websites and organisations. Keeping one’s child vaccine free is the only sane option which an increasing number of parents are following. Vaccination advocates are bunch of criminals and a bunch of losers.

  2. John Scudamore Reply

    November 6, 2015 at 5:56 am

    Vaccinators study anti-vaccine websites and conclude they are unscientific and use pseudoscience.

  3. Steve Michaels Reply

    November 6, 2015 at 7:02 am

    Any attempt in this study to clarify what the alleged misinformation points were or in what way they were incorrect? Without enumerating the specific assertions, the findings remain strictly unsubstantiated assertions. In other words, meaningless.

  4. Lynne Reply

    November 6, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Anti vaxxers aside. Why are there so many heart breaking true stories and photo’s of beautiful healthy babies and children who seem to just suddenly die or are permanently injured just after they have had their vaccine shots? The internet has the same stories from around the world.

  5. Tony Reply

    November 6, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    Totally agree with Erwin Alber. There are very few websites and people who are anti-vaxx. There are two things that most of them are: 1. Pro SAFE vaccine; 2. Pro-choice, pro Freedom (what this country was founded on). What we also are is anti-forced medical experimentation and/or procedures on us (read the Nuremberg Code, our own HHS The Belmont Report, The Declaration of Helsinki). We attack China, Russia, etc., for human rights violations, but look at what we are doing. With our example, they probably don’t feel so bad.

  6. Redpill1 Reply

    November 6, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    Unfortunately with studies like these and the way the country has been so conditioned by fear and propaganda, substantiating anything is secondary because the title and the first paragraphs of any article pertaining to the “CDC mantra” is loaded with what the powers that be wants people to know. They have conditioned the country well into not using critical thinking and common sense. They know people only read the title of an article and the first paragraph if it’s not too long. If they, the medical professions who suffer from willful ignorance and those parents who are too afraid to really research vaccines read and are told these are sites of misinformation, they won’t look. MP because they don’t want to be labeled “antivaxx” and they don’t want to engage their conscious because they are promoting a medical ritual that has been and continues to be responsible for the suffering and deaths of millions of children over the century.

    Pro-vax parents are so stewed in fear they are paralyzed. Afraid of doctors that kick them out of their practices, afraid of family member who will shun them if they don’t go with the program, afraid of schools that threatened to kick their children out, afraid of other parents who won’t invite their children to play dates. Afraid to research what a vaccine reaction is and if it happens afraid to even take their child to emergency after a vaccine reaction and say to the ER staff, my child was vaccinated a day ago and they have been sick since. Reading the articles that say anti-vaccine website are full of misinformation must be a relief to them.

    TPTB must be getting desperate with their onslaught of phony studies. Even though this “study” was not written specifically in: Road Map Goals For Adult Vaccination: For Action To Reach The healthy People 2020 http://www.naturalnews(dot)com/files/GSA-2013NAVPwhitepaper_final.pdf#search=roadmap%20to%20action, it must be part of the agenda to brainwash the parents first thus making it easier for them to eventually submit to being vaccinated—to protect the children.

  7. Adam Reply

    November 6, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    THE ANTI-VAX TEAMS STUDY THOUSANDS OF PRO-VAX WEBSITES and find them packed with unscientific information, Fraudulent data, fudged statistics and fixed studies.

    • Redpill1 Reply

      November 7, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      Please name the studies, what studies are fraudulent, please provide the evidence, the unscientific information, fudged statistics and which studies were fixed.

      Thank you. Otherwise -you’re blowing smoke.

  8. Mary Ann Sowards Reply

    November 6, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Moran and her team should first read the studies that
    support the anti-vaccine conclusions about the many
    vaccine dangers. There was no indication at all that
    they had read anything on this position. How can they
    support their “findings” when they can’t specify any
    studies, etc. BIG QUESTION: Who paid for their
    study??????? Who set up the study for them??? If they were in my class, they would have had to provide all
    that information.

  9. Michael McLaughlin Reply

    November 7, 2015 at 2:36 am

    Moran’s assertion that “Anti-vaccine websites contained a
    considerable amount of misinformation;” is to smoke screen the reality of illegible vaccine science.

  10. Rob Reply

    November 7, 2015 at 2:43 am

    I side with Erwin and Tony. Counter arguments (i.e. attacks) against my position quickly descend into ad hominem fallacy or into the fallacy of appeal to authority. The debate is never on the issues. Notwithstanding, there is a viable debate.

    As a Ph.D. social science researcher, I’m appalled by the lackluster science revolving around vaccinations. Here’s a telling quotation about “research” in this special interests era:

    …Similar conflicts of interest and biases exist in virtually every field of medicine, particularly those that rely heavily on drugs or devices. It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.” ~Marcia Angell

  11. Jem Reply

    November 7, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    I think the point of the article is to illustrate that the big pharma machine is studying the mindset and behaviors of anti-vaxxers in order to devise methods to better manipulate these skeptics into vaccinating their children. It’s a “psychological warfare” type tactic being used to quash any and all dissenters from their mass vaccination program. Scary…

  12. Rob Reply

    November 9, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    Just wondering why the attributed links are circular back to this article? There are no links to the actual study, only back to this article, like they are citing the study from the text they copied from the actual study.
    The above question is cited from the previously written question, “Just wondering why the attributed links are circular back to this article? There are no links to the actual study, only back to this article, like they are citing the study from the text they copied from the actual study.”

  13. DSW Reply

    November 10, 2015 at 11:24 am

    Meghan Bridgid Moran, how about for your next study you look at what a great job the “public health” is doing in promoting robust health among American children today.

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