Patient Engagement

Why it’s good news that GSK is monitoring what parents are saying about vaccinations

HPV vaccineThere was a really interesting article in The Wall Street Journal about how GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) monitored public forums on and

According to the article, GSK used text analytics software over a two month period, allowing it to gather the themes of thousands of posts it de-identified into topical clusters like “safety,” “timing” and “comfort” and sentiments, like “happiness” and “unhappiness,” to give the company a better view of parents’ sentiments than what they might share in an official survey or focus group. It assembled the information into a study in which it concluded that parents often had a lack of “comfort” with the safety of vaccines, and were unconvinced that they needed to vaccinate their kids against measles and mumps.

I think that’s great and hope they keep it up.

Why? Because measles is one of the leading causes of death for children under 5 years old, according to the World Health Organization. About 158,000 people died from measles in 2011 – mostly children under the age of five. This is a disease that was eliminated in the US in 2000 but it’s making a comeback — in 2011 there were more than 200 reported cases. In the UK, the count has surpassed 1,000 since November 2012, — the majority of cases are in Wales.


It’s hard to come up with a more emotional issue than healthcare, particularly when it comes to our loved ones. I can respect a parent’s concern about the potential side effects of childhood vaccinations. But if I were a physician or a pharmaceutical company, I would want to know the specific sources of those concerns because it would help me better empathize and better educate parents, particularly if the fears are associated with autism. It would also help me better combat the misinformation being spread around the Internet. After all, these are public health issues and if you want to boil it down to cost — it’s much cheaper to get a vaccine than hospitalize a child with measles.

I recall an e-patient conference last year where some of the speakers expressed annoyance that pharmaceutical companies were following them on Twitter. At least one person wished they would ask permission. Please. That’s what private groups and direct messages are for.

Personally, I wish pharmaceutical companies felt less encumbered to be more transparent. I’m sure most people who have questions about issues like the merits of MMR vaccines and the misinformation spread by Andrew Wakefield and his advocates over these vaccines causing autism would welcome the opportunity to communicate with a pharmaceutical company, preferably with a pediatrician.

As one commenter pointed out, Google collects information from searches with little complaint as does Facebook (well, some complaint). There are plenty of people advocating for more pharmaceutical companies to engage the public. A balanced dialogue would be the perfect antidote to ignorance.

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