Jiang Bian, Ph.D., was part of a team whose research poster, “Surveillance of HPV-related vaccination discourse on Twitter in the United States,” was selected as the Best Conference Poster at the 2016 International Conference on Social Media & Society in London on July 11-13.
Bian, assistant professor in the Department of Health Outcomes & Policy, worked on the research project together with Chris Wheldon, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Md., and Richard Moser, Ph.D., program director and the acting branch chief of the behavioral research program’s science of research and technology branch at the NCI.
The team used the Twitter Application Programing Interface (API) to access the Twitter social media platform and examined more than 21,000 tweets about the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine across several states between February and June 2016. The study’s aim was to examine public perceptions about the vaccine and pinpoint possible barriers to its use. Although the HPV vaccine is effective in preventing cervical and other cancers, insurance coverage of the vaccine is low and varies considerably by state. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013, in the United States, the median HPV vaccination coverage level for girls aged 11-12 was 12 percent for commercial insurance plans and 19 percent for Medicaid.
The researchers studied data from two states with high tweet volume: Kansas and Rhode Island. They examined the tweets based on the popularity of the topic, sentiments expressed, content, and the sources of the information. In Kansas, 28 percent of tweets from the Kansas University Cancer Center supported the vaccine and promoted a Twitter chat. Some tweets expressed “alarm” over the low number of teens who got the HPV vaccine, but the number of tweets opposed to the vaccine was minimal.
In Rhode Island, where state law mandates that all children receive the HPV vaccine before entering 7th grade, the researchers found that 32 percent of tweets came from a group trying to overturn the mandate. They also identified a conflict between the mandate and public awareness of the link between HPV infection and cancer.
“We found that by conducting qualitative analyses of Twitter data, it is possible to provide health researchers and policy makers with meaningful context for public health interventions,” Bian said. The team plans to do further research on HPV vaccines using data from Twitter.