The Vaccine Safety Project on Wikipedia

There are numerous sources on the internet, particularly on social media, spreading misinformation related to vaccine safety. It is difficult to control the extent to which such messages circulate on the internet, because most of these posts circulate in closed groups in social media and other online echo chambers. The vaccine debate is stronger now more than ever due to the concerns regarding the safety and efficacy of the prospective COVID-19 vaccines which are under development. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruptions in vaccination services across the globe. All these factors make it important that reliable and updated information regarding vaccine safety is communicated to the public. 

Wikipedia is one of the most popular knowledge platforms in the world. The health information on English Wikipedia receives huge traffic, which makes it one of the most consulted health care resources in the world. The Wikipedia article about the COVID-19 vaccine has gathered over two million views. Therefore, it is important that Wikipedia’s vaccine safety information is updated and reliable. 

The Vaccine Safety Project launched this summer to find and bridge the knowledge gaps related to vaccine safety on English Wikipedia. The pages of the Vaccine Safety Project were designed like a WikiProject, a portal for Wikipedians with similar interests to collaborate with each other. The project created a portal with spaces for general discussion (talk), sharing vaccine-related news (news), listing articles related to vaccine safety (navbox), sharing tips for new editors (tips), listing sources and missing topics related to vaccine safety (sources, sources list, missing topics) and for article suggestions from Wikidata (Wikidata lists).

The Vaccine Safety Project also documented the existing knowledge related to vaccine safety on Wikipedia, which includes over 100 articles. The Sources list contains search strategies for finding relevant resources from medical repositories containing vaccination information. The project also contains links to reference sources that contain relevant images and data which could be used for strengthening the vaccine safety information on Wikipedia. One of the features of the vaccine safety project is the Missing Topics page. Topic areas related to vaccine safety which do not feature on Wikipedia are mapped here. In addition to general topics, organizations related to vaccine safety and country-based vaccination status are listed on this page. The resources listed in this page could be used in future to create the articles related to missing topics from a scratch. 

The Vaccine Safety Project uses data from Wikidata, the sister project of Wikipedia, which is a free structured data repository. The project uses Listeria, an automated script, to create a list of topics surrounding vaccines, journals on vaccines and vaccine related journal articles. This list is updated every 24 hours, ensuring that all changes made on Wikidata are included. The entries present in this list could be used to create new articles related to vaccine safety on Wikipedia. 

As a part of this project, bibliographic information related to vaccination from the National Academy of Sciences was uploaded to Wikidata. This was accomplished with a collaboration from Houcemeddine Turki, a Wikipedian working on bibliographic information on Wikidata and project lead of WikiCred project RefB: Adding Reference Support to Biomedical WikiData Statements.

Information from the Vaccine Safety Project was used to conduct the first Vaccine Safety edit-a-thon, a community event where experts and newcomers came together to edit Wikipedia articles. The edit-a-thon was organized by NewsQ and Wikimedia DC, in partnership with the World Health Organization’s Vaccine Safety Network and the Stanford History Education Group. Approximately twenty-five people participated in this edit-a-thon, including medical doctors, researchers and experienced Wikimedians. This event led to eight article creations and the expansion of 461 articles. Similar events are being planned for bridging the knowledge gaps related to vaccine safety on Wikipedia next year, also in different languages. 

If you are interested in leaving feedback about the Vaccine Safety Project, please do so on the talk page of the project here.

How to identify misinformation related to coronavirus?

We live in the era of information overload and misinformation. Ever since coronavirus started being a cause for panic among the public, a lot of misinformation regarding it started circulating in the internet. How to identify if a given information is true or not?

  1. Check the source of the information. If the information you found comes from a website, check the URL to find out if it is a reliable organization. Some of the sources that you can rely on are the governments of your countries, World Health Organization and established newspapers. Even Wikipedia has reliable information related to coronavirus pandemic. This is made possible by thousands of volunteers, including experts, monitoring  pages related to coronavirus and updating the pages for accurate information. There is a Wikipedia page for Misinformation related to the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic. Several instances of misinformation have been recorded here.
    If the information you got is via a social media platform such as Whatsapp, you should be careful about its authenticity. Always ask the sender for the origin of the message if you are unsure if it is true. Encourage everyone to share trusted information only.
  2. Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence : If you find a post that says that the the cure for coronavirus disease is found, or makes similar tall claims, it is likely that they are wrong. If a vaccine or medicine for coronavirus gets indeed made, it will be all over the place, not just in that single forwarded message.
  3. If you find something like “The truth behind coronavirus pandemic” or such that has the word ‘truth’ in it, it is likely that they are sharing an unpopular opinion, and therefore, it is likely to be false. Those saying the truth don’t need to affirm that they are indeed saying the truth, but liars need to do it from time to time to make sure their lies are spreading.
  4. If the coronavirus-related post deals with supporting an ideology or a religion, it may be false. In the zeal of projecting one’s ideology or religion first, people tend to create and spread all kinds of news, including fake ones. Neither capitalism or communism has figured out how to control coronavirus spread. Neither Hinduism nor Islam has solutions for preventing disease transmission.
  5. Take extra care when you SHARE information. Only share the posts that you know are true. Don’t be a part of the fake news chain.