Good information practices – Vaccine Safety Net

The internet is a mine of useful information on various topics, but also contains websites of dubious quality. Although many quality websites offer science-based information about vaccine safety, other sites provide unbalanced and misleading information. This can lead to undue fears, particularly among parents and patients.

To assist readers in identifying websites providing information on vaccine safety that comply with good information practices, the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS) recommended a list of criteria that sites providing information on vaccine safety should adhere to.45 The recommended criteria fall into four categories:

  • criteria with respect to the credibility of the website: these criteria aim at ensuring transparency regarding basic elements such as ownership of the website, financial sponsorship of the website and others. These elements can help website visitors make an informed decision regarding whether this is a trustworthy resource that they wish to consult, to learn about issues related to vaccine safety;
  • criteria with respect to the quality and the quantity of the vaccine safety content of the website. These criteria ensure that the website content is accurate, current and reliable. They include: the source of information (including any potential conflicts of interest the authors may have related to the content), how site content is selected and reviewed and by whom, whether all reasonable sides of issues are presented in a fair way, and others. Transparency regarding these critical factors contributes to the credibility of the website and helps to inspire confidence among website visitors;
  • criteria with respect to accessibility. They seek to ensure that the website is accessible as possible and cover a broad range of issues such as the existence of standard operating procedures (including access levels, content management and login credentials), mobile-friendly web design to enable users to access the content independent of the device used and others;
  • criteria with respect to design ensure that the website is user-friendly. These include the website design, colors, photos, fonts and graphics, as well as the website structure, including availability of tools that aid in navigation such as site maps and internal search engines and others.

From March 2010, more than 30 websites successfully met the GACVS criteria and are listed on the WHO website. Listed sites are re-evaluated for their adherence to the credibility and content criteria every two years. Evaluation dates are included within each site description.45

Vaccine Safety Net

WHO has reviewed a number of sites for adherence to the credibility and content criteria noted above. Vaccine websites not listed may not appear because:

  • they have not been reviewed;
  • they are currently under review;
  • they have been reviewed and do not meet the credibility and content criteria;
  • corporate websites and websites that are not reviewed regularly, e.g. no activity for more than two (2) years despite availability of new information, are not eligible to join the VSN.

As of June 2021, 97 websites from 42 countries from the 6 WHO regions, providing vaccine safety information in 36 languages, successfully met the GACVS criteria and are listed on the WHO website. Listed sites are re-evaluated for their adherence to the good information practices criteria every one or two years, depending on the type of institution they belong to. Evaluation dates are included within each site description.45