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A global alliance of health experts launch a dedicated support service for journalists and fact checkers reporting on COVID-19 vaccines

Supported by the Google News Initiative and hosted on Meedan’s Health Desk platform, the alliance brings together quotes, explainers and media briefings from Science Media Centres (SMCs) in, Germany, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Kenya and the United States, co-led by the Australian Science Media Centre. It is the first time all of these organizations have been able to work together in a comprehensive way to help journalists and fact-checkers report on the science of COVID-19 vaccines.

Scientists are crucial resources for journalists and fact-checkers who communicate public health information during crises. The Vaccine Media Hub will be continuously updated with expert commentary, explainers and the latest research to help journalists, fact-checkers and communicators report on the science behind the COVID-19 vaccines being developed. A 24-hour service will also be offered to journalists and fact checkers with specific questions.

Health Desk is an ever-expanding database of over 250 explainers on COVID-19 topics, written by a team of in-house public health scientists. The content provides layers of context to fact-checkers, media organizations and platform decision makers before those groups make decisions to flag harmful or misleading online content.

Health Desk’s core scientists include researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Stanford Health Communications Initiative, and scientists with experience working around the world and in multiple languages. The team is committed to making important and topical COVID-19 information accessible and deadline-friendly to newsrooms, freelance journalists, fact-checking organizations, and communicators around the world in the languages important for diverse audiences.

Over the last year, Health Desk has worked with fact-checking and newsroom partners in 25 countries. The team of scientists have served local community media outlets including the Atlanta NPR-affiliate WABE, and Indianapolis’ public radio station WFYI, as well as large media organizations like the New York Times, NBC and Reuters. Our media partnerships also include Tayo Help Desk, a resource that offers American Filipinos localized insights into COVID-19 information.

Each ‘explainer’ includes a breakdown of the latest scientific evidence on a topic, plus background and context about that topic. An example is our entry on human challenge trials, a complex public health concept distilled succinctly by our team of experts.

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Reaction to the launch from contributing organizations

Megan Marrelli, News Lead, Health Desk

“As a journalist myself it became clear when the pandemic hit that close collaboration with public health experts would be key to getting facts right in a way that’s both fast and responsible. That collaboration is even more necessary when it comes to vaccines. Health Desk was designed to give journalists and fact-checkers context for their critical reporting on complicated emerging COVID-19 science, so we’re thrilled to be able to syndicate vaccine information from global Science Media Centers onto Health Desk’s platform.”

Nat Gyenes, Director, Digital Health Lab, Meedan

“We’re at a moment in this pandemic where we’re reminded that a vaccine doesn’t save lives if it goes unused. Ensuring that eligible communities receive the vaccine involves addressing a variety of factors, ranging from availability of supplies to accessible, relevant, quality information. Pathways for public health experts and journalists, fact-checkers and community information leaders to collaborate closely, efficiently, and at the speed of newsroom deadlines is essential for addressing the health information inequity challenges that can impede vaccination efforts.”

Dr Susannah Eliott, CEO of the Australian Science Media Centre (www.smc.org.au)

“The pandemic is a global problem and it makes a lot of sense for this international group of organisations to pool their knowledge and expertise to help journalists anywhere in the world. We are excited to be working collaboratively on such an important issue and hope to continue to work together on other important global topics in future.”

Alexios Mantzarlis, News & Information Credibility Lead, News Lab, Google

“The COVID-19 vaccine media hub will be an invaluable tool to help journalists fulfill that crucial bridging role between the scientific community and the broader public. In turn, that should help combat misinformation about the immunization process and promote an evidence-based public discourse globally.”

Digital Health Lab Director Nat Gyenes will be in conversation with American anthropologist and leading public health thinker Heidi Larson at Harvard School of Public Health on Thursday, March 11th, sharing information about the project.

For more information, please contact Megan Marrelli at megan@meedan.com.

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