YouTube is a video-sharing platform that is increasingly utilized to share and disseminate health-related information about immunization. Using a pre-post survey methodology, we compared the impact of two of the most popular YouTube videos discussing seasonal influenza vaccine, both vaccine-critical, on the attitudes towards immunizing of first year medical students attending a Canadian medical school. Forty-one medical students were randomized to view either a scientifically styled, seemingly "evidence-based", vaccine-critical video or a video using anecdotal stories of harms and highly sensationalized imagery. In the pre-intervention survey, medical students frequently used YouTube for all-purposes, while 42% used YouTube for health-related purposes and 12% used YouTube to search for health information. While medical students were generally supportive of immunizing, there was suboptimal uptake of annual influenza vaccine reported, and a subset of our study population expressed vaccine-critical attitudes and behaviors with respect to seasonal influenza. Overall there was no significant difference in pre to post attitudes towards influenza immunization nor were there any differences when comparing the two different vaccine-critical videos. The results of our study are reassuring in that they suggest that medical students are relatively resistant to the predominately inaccurate, vaccine-critical messaging on YouTube, even when the message is framed as scientific reasoning. Further empirical work is required to test the popular notion that information disseminated through social media platforms influences health-related attitudes and behaviors. However, our study suggests that there is an opportunity for public health to leverage YouTube to communicate accurate and credible information regarding influenza to medical students and others.
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