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Harris asks social media companies and sporting organisations to help raise vaccine awareness

The health minister sent letters to companies like Facebook and Google in recent weeks.

Harris is set to launch a vaccination alliance this week.
Harris is set to launch a vaccination alliance this week.
Image: Eamonn Farrell

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has sent letters to social media companies and sporting organisations asking them to help raise awareness of vaccinations ahead of the launch of a new vaccination alliance this week. 

Companies including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Pinterest received correspondence from the minister in recent weeks. 

Sporting organisations Federation of Irish Sport, Irish Sport HQ and Sport Ireland also received similar correspondence.

It comes as Harris is set to launch an alliance of healthcare professionals and policy makers this week in a bid to promote awareness and uptake of vaccinations in Ireland. 

In his letter to the social media companies seen by TheJournal.ie, Harris writes: “One of the sources of misinformation about vaccination is social media.

In fact, the European Commission [...] has identified the need to combat the spread of disinformation in the digital era as a key priority in tackling vaccine hesitancy.

“I would like to invite you to a meeting on social media, vaccination and vaccine hesitancy. I am particularly interested in hearing your proposals on how we can work together to combat the spread of misinformation and vaccination.”

In another letter sent to Sporting Ireland, Harris draws on the work of Laura Brennan who was an outspoken campaigner for the HPV vaccine before she passed away from cervical cancer in March this year. 

“Laura was an advocate for the HPV vaccine who was responsible for significantly increasing HPV vaccine uptake rates,” Harris said. 

“Her family is now encouraging individuals, teams and organisations to get behind their campaign in support of the HPV vaccine.

“They’re asking teams and individuals to wear the HPV vaccine logo on the jersey of their favourite sports team and to show their support on social media using #ThankYouLaura and #ProtectOurFuture.

“I note your excellent working relationship and partnerships with Healthy Ireland and as such, I would ask you to consider whether there are appropriate ways in which your organisation might be able to support this important initiative.”

Risk

Last month, Harris said social media companies need to “make sure their mediums are not used to spread lies” in relation to the HPV vaccine and other vaccines such as the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella).

The HPV vaccine which was previously only available to girls is being made available to boys from this month in a bid to reduce transmission of the virus. 

There are over 200 types of HPV, 40 of which can infect the genital tract. Of these 40, 13 are considered to be high-risk or capable of causing cancer. 

HPV is transmitted primarily by direct skin-to-skin genital contact during sexual intercourse. 

Meanwhile, cases of measles have spiked in Ireland and across Europe in the past year. 

Concerns have been raised over the possibility that Ireland could lose its measles-free status given the recent spike in cases here – the number of cases here tripled from 25 in 2017 to 77 in 2018.

- With reporting from Christina Finn

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