The Vaccine Safety Net is an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO), certain non-governmental organizations and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It was initiated in 2003.

The mission of the Vaccine Safety Net is to help internet users find reliable vaccine safety information tailored to their needs.

The need for the Vaccine Safety Net

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, the WHO initiated, in 2003, the Vaccine Safety Net Project (VSN).

How does the Vaccine Safety Net operate?

The Vaccine Safety Net works as a global network of vaccine safety websites, evaluated by the WHO.

Currently, the network has 47 member websites in 12 languages. According to the WHO, more than 173 million users access VSN websites every month.

Websites are subjected to severe vetting by the Vaccine Safety Net before being approved to become a member. For instance, websites are required to contain correct, unbiased information about vaccine safety and have no links with the industry to become a member.

Future directions: The efforts are on to include social media channels as well. The network is currently piloting the process for reviewing Facebook pages to help get trustworthy vaccine safety messages to more diverse audiences.

Relevance for India

Sometimes, rumours about the safety of vaccines can impact the number of children vaccinated. A recent instance was witnessed in Tamil Nadu during the measles-rubella vaccination drive in February 2017. Only about 50% of 17.6 million children could be vaccinated at the end of the campaign period on February 28, 2017. The campaign had to be extended for 15 days to cover over 95% of the target population.

The Vaccine Safety Net can contribute immensely in combating such rumour-mongering or misconceptions.

Nowadays, parents and caregivers often turn to the Internet for information about vaccine safety. Chances are that many people inadvertently land on websites that contain wrong and alarmingly misleading information.

With such websites mushrooming, the Vaccine Safety Net provides doctors, parents and others access to accurate and trustworthy information about vaccines.