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Experts create ‘chatbot’ to address people’s concerns about Covid-19 vaccines

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A team of experts are hoping to support members of the public who are hesitant about having a Covid-19 vaccination, and have developed an innovative new website to answer people’s questions and concerns.

COVIDVAXfacts.info launched on April 21st.

Some estimates suggest that over 90% of the UK population need to take a Covid-19 vaccine to achieve herd immunity, but research  suggests that one in five British adults are uncertain about whether to have a vaccine.

A team of experts from the Universities of Nottingham, Southampton,  Kings College London, and NIHR ARC Wessex, sought to answer these questions, by gathering information and evidence from independent experts working in the areas of immunology, vaccines and Covid-19The recent news about the risk of rare blood clots and the Astra-Zeneca vaccine have undoubtedly amplified people’s concerns.

Researchers have been looking at the reasons why people are unsure and have found that most people have very similar questions and concerns.

Project lead, Professor Kavita Vedhara said: “There is a lot of information and misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines and it can be hard to know where to look and who to trust. We have tried to develop a 'one-stop shop' that will provide information about the most common issues raised by the UK public. Our aim is to give people the information that will help them make an informed choice. Having a Covid-19 vaccine is a choice and everyone deserves a chance to have access to the information that will help them make that choice.”

Dr Katherine Bradbury is a Health Psychologist from the University of Southampton and ARC Wessex researcher: "Fantastic to work on this important project, which will help people to make informed decisions about whether to have the Covid19 vaccine. There is a lot of confusing information out there, so it’s great to have all the top scientific information in one place so people can read it and make up their own minds about whether they want to be vaccinated."

Katharine Baker, ARC Wessex’s Public and Patient involvement officer said: “The team listened and adapted to the concerns of patients and the public, who also highlighted the importance of bringing together information in a trusted place. This was a great project to work on which I hope continues to help people understand more about COVID19 vaccines.”

Working with creative technology agency Rehab, the team have developed a website - COVIDVAXfacts.info - which they hope will help support people in making their decisions about having a vaccine.

The website provides up to date information on what we do and don’t know about the vaccines and allows people to explore the specific questions or concerns that matter to them. For example, the website includes information on the blood clot issue and also whether people can be vaccinated during Ramadan.

It also provides links to other websites, that the public may find helpful.

The ‘chatbot’ starts by asking the user a few questions to find out what they are most concerned about. It then has a ‘conversation’ with the user about this issue in an objective, non-judgemental way, talking them through what is known and what isn’t, with scientific evidence presented in an accessible way.

The chatbot is able to store anonymous information on how the website is used which will help the team to understand which parts of the site work well and are used the most. This will allow them to continuously improve the site. The team are also hoping to secure funding to enable the site to be translated into different languages.