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Merck CEO on anti-vaccine movement: 'We have to counter some misinformation'

Adriana Belmonte
Associate Editor

The anti-vaccination debate has picked up steam over the last several decades, particularly due to the spread of misinformation about the dangers of vaccines.

Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck (MRK), a pharmaceutical company that manufactures some vaccines, weighed in on this issue at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit on Thursday.

“When I was younger, I thought I was invincible,” Frazier said, responding to the point made by Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer that some young people don’t want to get vaccines. “I wasn’t worried about health care when I was younger. I never saw a doctor until I was much older. So, I understand that proposition.”

He continued: “I think that the broader issue around vaccination is that we have to counter some misinformation that’s broadly available in our society about vaccines in terms of the harm that people allege that they cause.”

Merck CEO Ken Frazier weighed in on vaccine misinformation. (Photo: AP)

Vaccine-preventable diseases among adults have cost the U.S. nearly $9 billion per year, and unvaccinated individuals account for most of it. Measles, a highly contagious disease, was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 but a string of recent outbreaks across the country have brought low immunization rates to the forefront.

“If you go back just 20 years, people had considered measles now obsolete in our society, and now it’s coming back because people are hesitant to take vaccines,” Frazier said.

The measles vaccine is considered 97% to 98% effective. And according to 2017 data from the CDC, among children age 19-35 months, 91.1% have received the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine(s), 91.9% have received the polio vaccine, 90.6% has received the chickenpox vaccine, and 83.4% have received the Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (DTP) vaccine.

“I think technology has a role,” Frazier said. “We’ve created a situation where there’s more democratization of information. More information is available, but it tends not to always be curated. So there’s a lot of false and incorrect information on the web. That’s all there is to it.”

“And if you want to spread that kind of information and cause people to be fearful, the internet’s a pretty good way of doing it,” Frazier said. “Social media is a pretty good way of doing it. I think that’s a big issue as it relates to this.”

Facebook released a new tool to stop vaccine misinformation. (Photo: Facebook)

Social media giant Facebook (FB), along with Pinterest (PINS), have tried to prevent the dissemination of misinformation as it relates to vaccines on their platforms. When users search for content on vaccines, Facebook and Instagram will direct those individuals to the CDC if they’re in the United States, or the World Health Organization in other parts of the world. This is to ensure that the information they’re receiving is coming from legitimate medical sources.

“I think it’s a real threat to our democracy, the fact that people are getting a lot of information that is misinformation, and I think a lot of people understand that’s a valuable tool to be used politically,” Frazier said.

“If you look at data, a lot of people go to the web to get health information. And that’s really important to them. So it’s really critical that they have scientifically valid and balanced information.”

Adriana is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

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