NewsGuard Launches VaxFacts Campaign to Counter Hoaxes About COVID-19 Vaccines and Other Healthcare Misinformation

Microsoft, the Knight Foundation, the Mount Sinai Health System, Publicis Health Media, and Media and Nonprofit Leaders Join Campaign Offering Free Access to the HealthGuard Browser Extension for all Families

(February 3, 2021) – At a time when the “infodemic” of misinformation has led many people to say they won’t take a COVID-19 vaccine, a group of corporations, media organizations, and nonprofits has joined to launch a health media literacy campaign featuring a free tool to help them avoid misinformation and make informed decisions about vaccinations. 

The “VaxFacts” campaign will ensure families receive free access to educational resources and a tool that helps them avoid health hoaxes: the HealthGuard browser extension. HealthGuard provides credibility ratings for the thousands of websites that publish news and information about healthcare topics, flagging those spreading hoaxes about the COVID-19 vaccine and guiding families to sources that offer authoritative information. 

Thanks to sponsorship support from Microsoft, the Knight Foundation, the Mount Sinai Health System, and Publicis Health Media, HealthGuard is now available free until June 30, 2021, ensuring all families, including those that cannot afford the annual HealthGuard subscription price of more than $35, can benefit from this health literacy campaign. HealthGuard includes ratings for the top sources of healthcare information in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, and Italy.

“Though health misinformation circulates online, it causes real life consequences,” said Andy Pattison, who leads the World Health Organization’s Digital Channels Team. “We must put tools in the hands of people everywhere so they can better assess the credibility of health information online in order to make informed health choices in their life. NewsGuard has been instrumental in helping WHO and partners keep people safe by identifying and combating online COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation.”

“Access to accurate information has never been more important, especially as we witness online hoaxes lead to real world consequences, particularly in matters related to health,” said Kate O’Sullivan, General Manager of Microsoft’s Digital Diplomacy program and a member of NewsGuard’s Board of Advisors. “Falling prey to misinformation online is far too easy and has happened to all of us. HealthGuard is a tool that will help the reader differentiate fact from fiction and make life-saving decisions with more confidence.”

“The spread of COVID misinformation hampers local communities’ efforts to combat the pandemic,” said Paul Cheung, Director of Journalism and Technology Innovation at The Knight Foundation. “HealthGuard is among one of several important tools Knight is supporting to stem the spread of misinformation by helping users to differentiate which information sources are facts vs fiction.”

“Mount Sinai is committed to providing accurate information for the people in our care,” said Karen Wish, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of the Mount Sinai Hospitals Group and Network at Mount Sinai Health System. “This campaign supports that commitment by expanding the effort to provide people searching for information with trust ratings and reviews of health news and information. It helps people discern which links on search engines, news feeds, social media sites are trustworthy sources. In today’s sea of constant information, this is a valuable tool.”

“PHM is proud to play a leadership role in the way the healthcare media industry communicates with truth, trustworthiness and transparency with its audiences, specifically related to information related to the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Andrea Palmer, President of PHM.

The HealthGuard browser extension can be used on all major browsers (Chrome, Safari, Edge, and Firefox) and installs with the click of a button. Once installed, HealthGuard’s Red and Green rating icons display next to links on search engines, social media pages, and other platforms, indicating whether or not a site is a trustworthy source of health information. Users hover over the HealthGuard icon to see a summary of each site’s rating and can click through to see a more detailed analysis in a Nutrition Label for each site. Ratings are based on nine basic criteria of journalistic practice relating to credibility and transparency. To download HealthGuard and read NewsGuard’s other reports about COVID-19 misinformation, click here.

NewsGuard has been joined by more than 20 media and nonprofit organizations that will spread the word to their readers and community members about this campaign through public service announcement advertisements, newsletter mentions, podcast interviews, articles, and more.

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been focused on delivering information and insight – for both consumers and healthcare professionals – with rigorous adherence to the science,” said John Whyte, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer at WebMD and Medscape, which are two partners in the VaxFacts campaign. “By partnering with HealthGuard, we strengthen that effort at a critical time in the fight against COVID-19. With vaccines becoming more widely available, we have the potential to provide the kind of clear and accurate information that can help us get to the other side of this pandemic.”

The full list of media partners participating in the campaign, listed in alphabetical order by country, includes:

  • U.S.: Amobee, The Association for Healthcare Social Media, Britannica, Center for Healthcare Innovation, EveryLibrary, Fortune, Islamic Medical Association of North America, Law.com, Medscape, MSN, the National Alliance for Caregiving, the National Association of Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), Newsweek, STAT News, TIME, WebMD
  • France: 20 Minutes, Actu.fr, Euronews, Sciences Po Journalism School
  • Italy: Blasting News, Corriere della Sera, Facta, La Repubblica, La Stampa, Luiss, School of Journalism in Urbino, Scienza In Rete, WIRED Italy

Earlier this year, NewsGuard launched HealthGuard, a targeted service of NewsGuard that provides ratings and Nutrition Labels for all healthcare-oriented websites to help people locate credible health information and avoid the vast number of sites peddling healthcare hoaxes. At the same time, NewsGuard teamed up with the World Health Organization to provide WHO officials with ongoing information about websites and accounts on social media platforms spreading COVID-19 hoaxes. 

Now, the same sources pushing falsehoods about COVID-19 have centered their efforts on spreading untruths about the COVID-19 vaccines. NewsGuard has been tracking these myths in its running report about “The Top COVID-19 Vaccine Myths Spreading Online.” This misinformation reaches a wide audience: NewsGuard’s October 29, 2020 Special Report about Facebook’s COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation Super-spreaders found that 34 Facebook pages reaching approximately 14.2 million users promoted inaccurate and unsubstantiated allegations about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, including those developed for COVID-19. And despite Facebook’s December announcement that it would ban such content, reporters and researchers – including at NewsGuard – have found that harmful falsehoods about the vaccines remain popular on both Facebook and Instagram

“People must be able to distinguish facts from fiction, especially health information in the pandemic, and this initiative is a great example of technology helping people to trust what they read and keep misinformation in check,” said Caroline Dinenage, U.K. Minister for Digital and Culture. “We continue to work with social media companies to tackle the spread of false information online, and our upcoming Online Safety Bill will ensure they take more robust action to tackle it.”

Regular polling about Americans’ attitudes towards the vaccines shows a progressive increase in the proportion of Americans who say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine, but nearly 30% of American adults still say they would definitely or probably not get a vaccine, according to a December study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. There is similar reluctance to take the vaccine in Europe. A recent medical research paper by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine blamed antivaccine misinformation as one cause of vaccine hesitancy, warning that “online misinformation threatens herd immunity target and ‘people’s lives.’”  

In recognition of the substantial threat this misinformation poses to public health measures, NewsGuard decided to launch the VaxFacts campaign to counteract these hoaxes.

“Countering COVID-19 vaccine misinformation is urgent now that the COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out,” said Gordon Crovitz, NewsGuard co-CEO. “There is a significant risk that fear of the vaccine based on misinformation will prevent the herd immunity from widespread use of the vaccines that can defeat the deadly virus.” 

“It’s so heartening that so many sponsors, including media partners, have gotten behind this campaign to fight misinformation with a tool that lets people decide about the credibility of the healthcare information they see online,” said Steven Brill, NewsGuard co-CEO.

As part of this campaign, NewsGuard will also work with its network of more than 750 public library partners globally to ensure their communities have access to the HealthGuard tool and other health literacy resources. Through NewsGuard’s News Literacy Program, sponsored by Microsoft, public libraries receive free access to the NewsGuard browser extension for use on library computers. By now making HealthGuard available free to the general public, public library patrons who may be unable to visit library locations in person will still be able to benefit from NewsGuard’s ratings and reviews of websites they may encounter when searching for trusted information about their health.

To learn more about the campaign and to start using HealthGuard today, visit newsguardtech.com/vaxfacts.

About NewsGuard

Launched in March 2018 by media entrepreneur and award-winning journalist Steven Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, NewsGuard provides credibility ratings and detailed “Nutrition Labels” for thousands of news and information websites. NewsGuard rates all the news and information websites that account for 95% of online engagement across the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, and Italy. NewsGuard products include NewsGuard, HealthGuard, and BrandGuard, which helps marketers concerned about their brand safety, and the Misinformation Fingerprints catalog of top hoaxes.

NewsGuard rates each site based on nine apolitical criteria of journalistic practice, including whether a site repeatedly publishes false content, whether it regularly corrects or clarifies errors, and whether it avoids deceptive headlines. It awards weighted points for each criterion and sums them up; a score of less than 60 earns a “Red” rating, while 60 and above earns a “Green” rating, which indicates it is generally reliable.

NewsGuard’s ratings and Nutrition Labels can be licensed by internet service providers, browsers, news aggregators, education companies, and social media and search platforms in order to make NewsGuard’s information about news websites available to their users. Consumers can access these ratings by purchasing a subscription to NewsGuard, which costs $2.95/month and includes access to NewsGuard’s browser extension for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox and its mobile app for iOS and Android. The extension is available for free on Microsoft’s Edge browser through a license agreement with Microsoft, and NewsGuard’s ratings can also be accessed free through the Edge mobile browser. Hundreds of public libraries globally receive free access to use NewsGuard’s browser extension on their public-access computers to give their patrons more context for the news they encounter online. For more information, including to download the browser extension and review the ratings process, visit newsguardtech.com.

NewsGuard Contacts:

  • Steven Brill, Co-CEO, steven.brill@newsguardtech.com, +1 212-332-6301
  • Gordon Crovitz, Co-CEO, gordon.crovitz@newsguardtech.com, +1 212-332-6407

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org.

About the Mount Sinai Health System

The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City’s largest academic medical system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai is a national and international source of unrivaled education, translational research and discovery, and collaborative clinical leadership ensuring that we deliver the highest quality care—from prevention to treatment of the most serious and complex human diseases. The Health System includes more than 7,200 physicians and features a robust and continually expanding network of multispecialty services, including more than 400 ambulatory practice locations throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked No. 14 on U.S. News & World Report’s “Honor Roll” of the Top 20 Best Hospitals in the country and the Icahn School of Medicine as one of the Top 20 Best Medical Schools in country. Mount Sinai Health System hospitals are consistently ranked regionally by specialty and our physicians in the top 1% of all physicians nationally by U.S. News & World Report.

For more information, visit https://www.mountsinai.org or find Mount Sinai on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

About Publicis Health Media

PHM is the leading health media agency in the US. We are designed for—and dedicated to—delivering best-in-class solutions that connect people with meaningful health and wellness solutions every day. Guided by our genuine passion for health and wellness, our work across the entire media ecosystem helps real patients navigate the most pivotal moments of their healthcare journeys.

At PHM, we sit squarely at the intersection of Publicis Health, the largest Healthcare Communications network in the world, and Publicis Media, the number one buyer of media in the US. This gives us access to talent, technology and data to help us deliver the market-leading solutions that give our clients true competitive advantage. 

While we have grown to be the No. 1 agency in our industry, at heart we’re still a startup. It’s that energy and spirit of innovation that allows us to create bold and meaningful “health media firsts” for our clients, and to do it all with #phmlove.