School gates can be a “breeding ground for harmful myths” about vaccines, the chief executive of NHS England has said, as he called for a zero-tolerance approach to misinformation about their alleged dangers.
Simon Stevens said it was often the parents who did their best to find out more about the impact and effect of vaccines on their children who were liable to be deceived by “fake news”.
“In this way the school gates themselves can be a breeding ground for harmful myths to catch on, spread and ultimately infect parents’ judgment,” he wrote in the Daily Mail.
“That parents’ efforts and anxiety to make the right decision for their children are jeopardised by wilful misinformation is unacceptable.”
Stevens backed efforts by internet companies to prioritise information about the safety of vaccines and their usefulness, and to censor information about alleged risks.
“With parents often taking their cue from other mums and dads, there must be a zero-tolerance approach to misinformation, while the government’s strategy on improving vaccination levels will help to drive action,” he said.
Last month, experts expressed alarm at the drop in take-up of routine childhood vaccinations across England.
The UK recently lost its measles-free status because of the fall in rates of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) immunisation. But recently published figures also showed a more widespread loss of confidence in vaccinations.
At the ages of 12 months, 24 months and five years, there had been a marked decline in vaccination rates against 13 different diseases, including whooping cough (pertussis), diphtheria and meningitis.
Confidence in the MMR jab appeared to have been dropping at least partly in response to social media misinformation and scare stories. The discredited claims of Andrew Wakefield, who theorised in 1998 that the immunisation was linked to autism, continue to be widely circulated.