Launched in 2011, Vaccines Today has quickly become a respected hub of vaccine information for the general public in Europe. The project centres on a website featuring information about vaccines and diseases, along with original news stories. Vaccines Today uses social media channels to bring its content to various audiences and has an established presence on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
The project is led by an experienced health journalist with the support of an Editorial Board comprising volunteers from civil society and the health professions, along with three industry representatives. During a recent question and answer session with the VSN team, Vaccines Today Editor Gary Finnegan provided insight on the portal’s most popular content and plans for the future.
How many users access your sites each year, and what are the most frequently visited sections?
We have around 300,000 visits per year. Social media drive traffic to our news content and we try to keep our followers up to date with the latest news on disease outbreaks, as well as providing information on vaccine-preventable diseases and vaccine safety.
Our Frequently Asked Questions section features answers to common concerns about vaccination and is consistently popular. Many people have genuine questions about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and we try to provide clear responses or to direct them to reliable sources.
Our most popular post ever is a personal story written by a parent about his son who developed SSPE after a measles infection. It is an emotional story and was widely shared on social media. However, people also want facts and to have complex ideas explained: our most popular video every year since we launched is an animated explanation of herd immunity.
Numbers alone are not enough to change people’s minds, yet emotional narratives need to be backed up by substance. We find that a mix of science and storytelling works best.
Describe some of the newest features added to your websites to enhance user experience.
Our site was completely redesigned at the end of 2016 to make it more visually attractive, easier to navigate, and to make content more engaging and shareable. It was a big change but feedback has been very positive.
One of our overarching goals it to improve engagement with the audience. Our website and social media channels are open for comments and we get particularly strong comments on Facebook. However, to really involve our readers we are running a photo competition – the Vaccines Today Communication Challenge – which invites users to submit photographs and tell a short story about how vaccines protect them and their family.
We are also developing an animated video series to highlight life-course immunisation. Each episode will focus on a family member and the vaccines recommended for their age group, seeking to address any major questions that may arise. For example, one of the children in the family may be due her HPV vaccine and have heard scare stories on social media. We want to have a light way to address these in an entertaining way.
Are there any additional aspects of your websites that you would like to highlight?
We are very keen on building partnerships. For example, in order to reflect the broad coalition in favour of immunisation, we have launched a ‘supporters’ section which has attracted more than 20 organisations from academia, scientific societies, patient organisations and vaccine advocates. This ‘immunity community’ is a source of news and information as well as a network for amplifying the impact of Vaccines Today’s content.
As most of our visitors come from the English-speaking world, we are constantly seeking new partners interesting in translating or reusing our content. In particular, bringing these ideas to general audiences in other European countries is a priority for us – so we would love to hear from anyone keen to collaborate.