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Study: Wealthy new moms drive anti-vaxxer sentiment

New moms living in affluent areas are leading the anti-vaccination charge on Twitter, new research shows.

Researchers at the University of Alabama analyzed nearly 500,000 tweets over a five-year period that included “autism” and “vaccines.” They found that the prevalence of anti-vaccine chatter was associated with areas where people have higher annual incomes ($200,000 or more) and higher percentages of new mothers.

“We found that anti-vaccine tweets were prevalent on Twitter, that there were changes in tweet volume over time, and that these tweets appeared to cluster geographically,” said Theodore S. Tomeny, autism researcher and assistant professor of psychology at University of Alabama, in a news release.

About half of the tweets researchers collected from 2009 to 2015 had anti-vaccine beliefs. The volume of anti-vaxxer tweets was steady through 2014 and increased after anti-vaccine news coverage and coverage of the measles outbreak in California.

“Recent state legislation about school (vaccination) exemptions and changes to some laws to make exemptions more difficult could also explain the jump,” Tomeny said in the news release. “Additionally, other studies show that school exemptions have been tied to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.”

The purpose of the study, Tomeny said, wasn’t to measure general public opinion. Rather, he said, it was to get a pulse of the “vocal minority” on Twitter.

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at marissa.harshman@columbian.com or 360-735-4546.

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