The propagation of rumours about rare but severe adverse vaccination or infection events through social networks can strongly impact vaccination uptake. Here we model a coupled behaviour-disease system where individual risk perception regarding vaccines and infection are shaped by their personal experiences and the experiences of others. Information about vaccines and infection either propagates through the network or becomes available through globally available sources. Dynamics are studied on a range of network types. Individuals choose to vaccinate according to their personal perception of risk and information about infection prevalence. We study events ranging from common and mild, to severe and rare. We find that vaccine and infection adverse events have asymmetric impacts. Vaccine (but not infection) adverse events may significantly prolong the tail of an outbreak. Similarly, introducing a small risk of a vaccine adverse event may cause a steep decline in vaccine coverage, especially on scale-free networks. Global dissemination of information about infection prevalence boosts vaccine coverage more than local dissemination. Taken together, these findings highlight the dangers associated with vaccine rumour propagation through scale-free networks such as those exhibited by online social media, as well as the benefits of disseminating public health information through mass media. © 2019, The Author(s).