The Internet contains a large amount of useful information on many subjects, but also information of doubtful quality. To help identify Web sites on vaccine safety that fulfil good practice, the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety of the World Health Organization (WHO) has published criteria to which sites should adhere and a listing of Web sites that fulfil them. There are no studies describing the common attributes of these sites.
Objective: To examine the attributes, design characteristics and resources of Web sites belonging to the Vaccine Safety Net (VSN) of the WHO.
Material and methods: A cross-sectional, descriptive observational study using an evaluation questionnaire was carried out applied to the VSN web sites listed in March-April 2007.
Results: Twenty-six Web sites accredited by the VSN by April 2007 were analysed. With respect to design and quality, all sites contained information about the site manager. Postal and Email addresses were available for 84.6% of the sites. About privacy and personal data processing, 73.1% of sites specified the data protection procedure used and stated that data were not sold or passed third parties. The most-used language was English (76.9%). 96.3% of sites had links to other pro-vaccination sites and 19.2% provided the addresses of vaccination centres. 63.6% of webs were aimed at general public and health care workers but there was no clear separation of documents or different entry routes. With respect to information on vaccine safety, 84.6% of sites had information on adverse effects. In the general information section, 92.3% of sites had a new developments section. Some sites had multiple sources of financing and in 57% of sites, the financing was public.
Conclusions: The most-important plus factors found were the transparency of financing, the lack of links to the pharmaceutical industry, the transparency of site management and responsibility and the proven scientific quality and constant updating of contents.