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 a huge amount of 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.
The WikiCred Grants Initiative supports research, software projects and Wikimedia events that explore information reliability and credibility. WikiCred’s funding is provided by Craig Newmark Philanthropies, Facebook, and Microsoft.