New project with Paul-Ehrlich Institute, funded by the DFG, starts in February

The German Research Foundation funds a new project in which we will apply our findings from two previous projects.

with Frank Renkewitz. Partner: Paul-Ehrlich-Institute (PEI)

This knowledge transfer project builds on the results of two DFG-projects, which have shown that narrative reports of vaccine-adverse events have a strong distorting effect on the perception of vaccination risks and the vaccination intention. The application partner is the Paul-Ehrlich-Institute (PEI). The PEI is a German federal authority, which collects suspected cases of vaccine-adverse events. The cases are published in a database on the PEI website. Suspected case means that the causal relationship between the pharmaceutical substance (e.g. vaccines) and symptom-onset is unknown. This type of information is used to detect early risk signals of the medicinal product (vaccine). In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, the suspected cases are made publicly available in an anonymous form. Internet users indeed visit the database as a source of information. Hence, the challenge is to design the database in a way that supports the perception of the cases as suspected cases,  and not as actual cases, so that they can be appropriately included in the evaluation of vaccines and do not bias the perception of vaccines. Vaccines are particularly in the focus of public interest. They are administered to healthy people and, in many cases, the respective vaccine-preventable diseases have disappeared from peoples consciousness due to high vaccination coverage. Potential side effects of vaccines therefore receive high attention. This imbalance leads to a failure of reaching high enough vaccination rates, which are needed to eradicate diseases. Furthermore, it always comes back to vaccine-preventable diseases outbreaks (such as the measles outbreak in Berlin recently, including a fatal case). Vaccine-hesitancy movements in the population reinforce this phenomenon. Against this background, optimization of the PEI side-effect database in the aforementioned sense is to be regarded as a matter of urgency. Specific objectives of the project are the optimization of the database using a live evaluation, accompanied by preparatory laboratory experiments (work package AP1), the empirical testing of communication strategies when suspected adverse events are subject to media reports (AP2) and the subsequent development and implementation of appropriate communication policies at the PEI (AP3). Generalized guidelines will be communicated and discussed with international partners who face similar challenges and published internationally.

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