Vaccine Safety Net
To facilitate the access of public health authorities, health professionals and the public to reliable information on vaccine safety via the internet.
2. General Information
Due to the success of immunization, some diseases are no longer perceived as a threat. Certain groups have even questioned the utility of vaccination in spite of its proven success in controlling disease. In recent years, a number of web sites providing unbalanced, misleading and alarming vaccine safety information have been established, which can lead to undue fears, particularly among parents and patients. Acknowledging the above-mentioned issues and urged by governments, key non-governmental organizations and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), WHO initiated, in 2003, the Vaccine Safety Net Project (VSN).
A key player in the Project is the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS), established by WHO in 1999, to respond promptly, efficiently, and with scientific rigour to vaccine safety issues of potential global importance.
At the outset of the Project, GACVS developed four categories of criteria for good information practices - regarding credibility, content, accessibility and design to which sites providing information on vaccine safety should adhere. WHO evaluates websites for their adherence to these criteria.
3. GACVS criteria
The criteria recommended by GACVS fall into four categories:
- Essential criteria (i.e. with respect to credibility)
- Important criteria (i.e. with respect to content)
- Practical criteria (i.e. with respect to accessibility)
- Desired criteria (i.e with respect to design)
4. VSN Members
The Vaccine Safety Net consists of a diverse group of 38 websites that provide vaccine safety information in nine languages. Each of these websites has been evaluated by WHO and meet the GACVS criteria noted above.
Sites that do not appear in the list may not yet have been reviewed, or they may be currently under review, or they may have been reviewed but do not meet the credibility and content criteria noted above.
5. VSN evaluation process
a. Evaluation of new websites
WHO is pleased to evaluate new candidates for inclusion in the VSN on a rolling basis. Please note that commercial sites are not evaluated or listed as a matter of policy.
The VSN evaluation process unfolds in the following manner:
- If you feel that your site meets the GACVS criteria outlined above, kindly send a request for a site evaluation to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Upon receipt of your request for an evaluation, your web site will be formally evaluated against the criteria by a team comprised of the VSN coordinator and one or more external consultants.
- The evaluation team will send you feedback regarding any areas that require clarification or improvements in order to meet the GACVS criteria as well as a set of recommendations to assist you in meeting these criteria. When applicable, the WHO evaluation team will provide examples illustrating different ways that VSN members have addressed each recommendation.
- Once the identified issues have been addressed to the satisfaction of the evaluators, WHO will add your web site to the list of VSN members.
b. Re-evaluation of VSN member websites
Re-evaluations are conducted every two years. The VSN evaluation process unfolds in the following manner:
- The evaluation team will send the website focal point written notice that the website is due for re-evaluation.
- The team will re-evaluate your web site against the credibility and content criteria and send you feedback regarding any areas that require clarification or improvements in order to meet the GACVS criteria as well as a set of recommendations to assist you in meeting these criteria. When applicable, the WHO evaluation team will provide examples illustrating different ways that VSN members have addressed each recommendation.
- When sites are considered by evaluators to satisfactorily meet credibility and content criteria, the date of finalization of the reevaluation is indicated at the bottom of the site description.
6. Frequently Asked Questions
a. How much time is allotted to implement the WHO recommendations?
Websites are given an initial six week period in which to implement the WHO recommendations. The evaluation team will provide you with a specific due date. Once you have made the requisite changes to the website and notified the evaluation team, they will review the changes and send any additional feedback, clarifications and/or final recommendations. You will have an additional six weeks in which to complete these final changes to the website.
If you have limited human resources or face other obstacles that will result in significant delays, the evaluation team will work with you to establish a timeline better suited to your specific needs.
b. What are the benefits of joining the VSN?
Participation in the VSN may raise your website’s profile and enhance its credibility. Once you have successfully completed the evaluation process, your website will be added to the roster of more than 30 VSN members worldwide that provide reliable information on vaccine safety. Some VSN members place a notice on their site indicating that they have been evaluated by WHO and found to meet the criteria for good information practices with regard to content, credibility, accessibility and design. Many VSN sites link to those of other members, thus driving more user traffic and increase browsers’ ranking.
c. May I use the WHO logo on our VSN approved website?
You are encouraged to provide a description of the VSN and link to the VSN website (http://www.who.int/vaccine_safety/initiative/communication/network/vaccine_safety_websites/en/); however, use of the WHO logo is not permitted as a matter of policy.
d. How long is the evaluation process?
The length of the evaluation/re-evaluation process varies greatly depending on a number of factors including response times on the part of both the website and the evaluation team; human resources available to implement WHO recommendations; and internal approvals required by some organizations before they can make specific changes to their site. The speediest evaluation was completed in less than two weeks, while some of the longest evaluations have taken well over one year.
Please see FAQ ‘a’ for specific guidelines regarding the length of time allotted to address WHO recommendations.
e. We received numerous recommendations from the evaluation team, is this a sign that our website is not a strong candidate for inclusion in the VSN?
WHO only evaluates websites that are viable candidates for the VSN. This means that the evaluation team is in agreement that your website is a valuable resource and already meets many of the GACVS criteria. The recommendations are intended to serve as guidance to help you meet the remaining criteria. Upon review you may find that some of the recommendations are based on minor oversights during the web development process and relatively easy to address, for example, adding a site map or including contact information for the web master. There is no correlation between the number of recommendations you receive and the quality of your site.