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As the first Humanities project by the Columbia World Projects, this project seeks to increase public confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine. By harnessing the power of data science and artificial intelligence, it will develop evidence-based public messaging that encourages vaccination, in partnership with local public health departments.Nearly a year into the global COVID-19 pandemic, we have reached a critical moment where several vaccines have been approved for use, and the possibility of curbing the spread of the virus is within reach if enough individuals are vaccinated. Over the past two decades, an increasing proportion of the population has come to view vaccines with skepticism, and in many cases, refrained from getting vaccinated altogether. While the procedural, behavioral and access barriers to vaccine uptake have been studied extensively, the emotional, ideological and rhetorical bases for vaccine hesitancy are poorly understood. This limited understanding, combined with public distrust in science and government, is likely to undermine efforts to robustly and quickly vaccinate against COVID-19.The project will engage vaccine makers, literary scholars, data scientists, political scientists, community leaders and public health officials. It will create the world’s largest public dataset of vaccine-hesitant language in English, collected from online forums such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, which have become primary platforms for discussing and disseminating vaccine skepticism and other vaccine-related concerns. Leveraging the power of such collected data, the project will use artificial intelligence to develop public messaging that reflects the ways in which people express specific forms of hesitancy. This approach represents a significant effort to use AI to analyze the language of vaccine hesitancy and then use that language to combat vaccine skepticism.

Collaborating on this project will be:

Rishi K. Goyal (Director, Medical Humanities Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the Columbia University Medical Center (in Medical Humanities and Ethics and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society))

Dennis Yi Tenen (Associate Professor, English Literature, Digital Humanities, and New Media Studies)

Noémie Elhadad (Associate Professor of Biomedical Informatics, affiliated with Computer Science and the Data Science Institute)

Kathleen R. McKeown (Founding Director of the Data Science Institute, Henry and Gertrude Rothschild Professor of Computer Science)

Melissa Stockwell (Chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Health and an Associate Professor of Pediatrics (Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons) and Population and Family Health (Mailman School of Public Health))

Prerna Singh (Mahatma Gandhi Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Brown University)

Institutional Partners:

Read the Columbia News article “What Can We Do to Reduce Vaccine Hesitancy?” from April 08, 2021.

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