The Internet has a lot of information about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases—but there is also misinformation, and some of it can be harmful if used to make health decisions.
Evaluating immunization information on the Internet: What can I believe?
Asking a few key questions can help you decide if you can trust the information you find online. These questions can also help you evaluate other sources of vaccine information such as newspapers, magazines, radio, pamphlets or books.
1. Does the website say who is responsible for the information and how to contact them?
The website should:
- Clearly identify the person or organization that produced it and how to contact them. Look for an “About us” or “Contact us” link.
- List any sources of funding or sponsorship.
2. Has the site been developed by a trustworthy source such as a government organization, professional association, or respected non-profit organization? Does it seem likely that the people who wrote the suggestions have medical training?
Some special interest groups publish information that isn’t based on evidence, or that focuses on the organization’s opinion of an issue.
- Experts should be identified, including their credentials (degrees, current positions, etc.).
3. Is there a date showing when the information was posted on online and/or last revised?
- If yes, is it current?
4. Is there scientific evidence to back up the claims?
- If yes, the site should provide sources (e.g., articles from trustworthy medical journals) for the claims (e.g., studies, reports, statistics).
- Remember that not all “studies” or “reports” are necessarily reliable. The CPS has more detailed information on how to judge medical claims on the Internet.
5. Is the site certified by the Health On the Net Foundation or the World Health Organization?
- Health On the Net (HON) Foundation is a Swiss not-for-profit organization that helps Internet users find useful and reliable online medical information. HON has developed guidelines for health sites. Websites that meet the criteria can use the HON seal. The HON site also has a checklist to help users judge if a given site would meet the criteria. Both this site (www.caringforkids.cps.ca) and the Canadian Paediatric Society’s professional site (www.cps.ca) are certified by HON.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety has compiled a listing of websites that provide information on vaccine safety and follow good information practices. This site (www.caringforkids.cps.ca) follows the recommended criteria and is on the list of trustworthy resources.
6. What are some signs that a website might not have a balanced point of view?
A number of studies have reviewed websites with anti-vaccine messages. These sites had many things in common:
- They made claims about vaccines that have not been proven in scientific studies.
- They all had links to other anti-vaccination sites.
- Many promoted alternative therapies—such as homeopathy, naturopathy and chiropractic—as being better than vaccination for preventing infections.
- Many provided stories about children who had reportedly been hurt by vaccines.
- Parents—not people with medical training—were the main source for stories about the alleged dangers of vaccines.
It’s a good idea to talk about the information you read on the Internet with your child’s doctor before making any health decisions.
Source: Your Child’s Best Shot: A Parent’s Guide to Vaccination, 3rd edition (2006), Canadian Paediatric Society
Reviewed by the following CPS Committees:
Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee
Public Education Advisory Committee
Last updated: February 2013