Monday, December 11, 2017
Social media trends can predict tipping points in vaccine scares.Analyzing trends on Twitter and Google can help predict vaccine scares that can lead to disease outbreaks, according to a study from the University of Waterloo. In the study, researchers examined Google searches and geocoded tweets with the help of artificial intelligence and a mathematical model. The resulting data enabled them to analyze public perceptions on the value of getting vaccinated and determine when a population was getting close to a tipping point. In the study, a tipping point represented the point at which vaccine coverage declines dramatically due to spreading fear, which could cause large disease outbreaks due to a loss of population immunity. As part of their study, the researchers collected tweets that mentioned measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and classified their sentiment using artificial intelligence computer programs. They also collected data on measles-related Google searches. Their mathematical theory on vaccine scares predicted what kind of early warning signals they should observe in the data. They found they were able to detect those signals in data from California before the 2014-15 Disneyland, California measles outbreak, which showed early warning signs of a tipping point two years before the outbreak occurred. Their mathematical model also predicted how the Disneyland outbreak helped push California back from the tipping point by making parents more afraid of the disease than the vaccine.