To better understand why people refuse vaccination, the US researchers have initiated a study that will draw partly on tweets as people tend to freely share their fears and concerns about vaccines on the microblogging site.
In the light of the severity of the current flu seasons, as well as recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses such as measles in the US, the study is expected to help more people, especially younger urban minorities, participate in vaccination efforts.
"People really do tweet about everything, and conversations about vaccines are no exception," said David Broniatowski, assistant professor at the George Washington University, in a press release.
"Parents and patients freely share their fears and concerns about vaccines. While it typically takes years to collect meaningful information about why people refuse vaccines, using surveys and searching Twitter brings immediate results," Broniatowski pointed out.
The study will involve a combination of Twitter searches and conventional survey approaches to evaluate the reasons for vaccine refusal, and analyse variations in refusal patterns between different demographics and communities.
The data is likely to offer a diverse representation of different demographics, researcher Karen Hilyard, assistant professor at the University of Georgia, pointed out.
"These two techniques complement each other perfectly," Hilyard noted.
The study will be useful in helping health officials to respond more quickly to the next outbreak, and will expedite necessary research into vaccine refusal and hesitancy, the researchers noted.