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Digital Tools Against Misinformation about Infectious Disease Treatments and Vaccines


Fast Track proposals will be accepted. Direct to Phase II proposals will not be accepted. Number of anticipated awards: 1-2 Budget (total costs): Phase I: $300,000 for up to 1 year; Phase II: $1,000,000 for up to 3 years. Background: It has been estimated that as many as 40% of the US population choose not get certain established and newly approved vaccines (e.g., HPV, flu) and recently, there has been hesitancy about receiving the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. In many cases, the underlying reasons for this decision can be traced back to widespread dissemination of misinformation about the vaccine itself or about the process used to test and obtain regulatory approval for these vaccines. Similarly, despite the overwhelming scientific body of evidence supporting the safety of other vaccines, like measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), there is a notinsignificant proportion of the population that continues to be skeptical and cite misinformation about vaccine adverse events, which have been discredited. Research has shown that much of this misinformation is disseminated through digital platforms and social media, where this type of misinformation can spread widely – like a virus. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many other falsehoods about the spread (or lack of spread) of the virus, the severity of the disease, and whether interventions were effective or not were widely disseminated among social and popular media. Therefore, it is critically important to develop digital tools to rapidly identify misinformation and minimize the effects of this unintended or malicious information to ensure effectiveness of public health measures and eliminate vaccine hesitancy and increase effectiveness of vaccinations, including but not limited to vaccination programs. Project Goal: The goal of this solicitation is to develop digital tools to identify and combat malicious digital bots that spread misinformation about infectious disease treatments and vaccines. The proposed digital tools could be specific to a single digital platform or social media outlet. The tools could either identify or combat misinformation, or it could be a holistic solution that both identifies and combats misinformation. The solicitation will support efforts to implement and test proposed solutions. Page 118 Phase 1 activities may include, but are not limited to: • Development of digital tools and/or methods to identify and/or combat malicious digital spread of misinformation and bots related to diagnosis, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases directly from digital platforms or social media. • Provide justification and unique value proposition for the development, adaptation or enhancement of this specific software tool and pipeline. • Describe the potential user(s) communities and provide two relevant use cases. • Development and/or improvement of sensitivity, specificity and other performance characteristics (e.g., time to identify, limit of detection, feasibility for implementation) of the digital tool or solution. • Development of methods to ensure the usability of the tool or solution in various scenarios, including but not limited to implementing routine vaccine recommendations, new and re-emerging outbreaks, epidemics, pandemics, rapidly spreading vs. sporadic or endemic infections • Develop an (early) prototype for the tool, perform alpha testing, and address issues from testing and evaluate with appropriate user community to solicit user feedback. Phase 2 activities may include, but are not limited to: • Further optimization of the methods and protocols and validation of reproducibility. • Final validation testing and scale-up for deployment on a specific platform. • Demonstration that methods developed in Phase I are applicable to a broader range of platforms • Enhancement and optimization of the prototype developed in phase I • Improve robustness, scalability, and usability of the tool • Conduct beta tests with the appropriate user communities and use cases, demonstrating the usability of the tool by the infectious, immune or allergic community • Gather feedback from the beta testing by the research community • Add functionalities and capabilities based on feedback and deploy a production version • Develop user documentation, user guides, SOPs and training materials. This SBIR will not support: • Clinical trials (see for the NIH definition of a clinical trial). • Projects proposing significant data generation and analysis for validation and testing of informatics tool.
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