COVID-19 Misinformation Playbook (2021)

Published March 29, 2021

This playbook was last updated in 2021. For the latest version, read our 2023 COVID-19 Misinformation Playbook.

In late 2020, a group of reporters and editors from around the globe convened as part of the Online News Association’s Community Circles program. The journalists and editors were strategizing their way through unprecedented challenges to reporting — a climate of abundant misinformation, lack of expertise in sophisticated medical issues, and the imperative to do their work in order to be of service to their communities. Many described the infrastructural challenges of their work. Even when they were able to produce timely stories, their reporting did not always reach their intended audience, as a result of a digital infrastructure that algorithmically disincentivized their work and relayed incorrect information — conspiracy theories, QAnon material — to their audience. Through working together and talking through some of the thorny issues these journalists were dealing with, we were able to create this resource: a collection of tip sheets, source lists, explainers, examples and other materials spanning public health reporting and our digital environment. We hope it is of use!


General Resources

  1. Best practices for local newsrooms from the Chattanooga Times Free Press
  2. A new MOOC from the Knight Center, Covering the COVID-19 vaccine: What journalists need to know (March 29-April 25, 2021)
  3. First Draft’s Vaccine Insights Hub: Live insights, intelligence and reporting guidance on emerging health and vaccine misinformation

Explainers: Vaccines and Testing

  1. Examples of easy, digestible pieces that provide readers with quick takeaways and can be an antidote to COVID-19 reader fatigue:
  2. Visualize data to help the reader see changes over time.

How to Pick an Expert

Picking an expert that represents and understands the unique challenges facing your region and community can sometimes be of greater benefit in fighting misinformation than interviewing an expert who is not familiar with your readership.

For example, many local public health agencies in the United States have started campaigns fighting COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and skeptical readers may be more receptive to information coming from local public health agencies they are familiar with rather than larger agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization.

  1. NPR’s COVID-19 Diverse Sources Database
  2. A weekly Q&A series from the Chattanooga Times Free Press

Below, you will find recommendations on sources in the United States, Canada and Europe from this working group.

Fact Checking Templates

  1. The CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance Database by Poynter
    • “Here is the database that gathers all of the falsehoods that have been detected by the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus alliance. This database unites fact-checkers in more than 70 countries and includes articles published in at least 40 languages. Para búsquedas en español, haz clic aquí. Faça buscas em português aqui.”
  2. The Covid-19 fact-check library from BBC News Africa
    • “To combat what the WHO has called an ‘infodemic’ around Covid-19, BBC News Africa has launched a searchable library of fact-checks debunking popular myths and misinformation about coronavirus in Africa.” Explore our top stories on this theme by using the arrows.
  3. Google Fact Check Tools
    • A tool not specific to COVID-19 misinformation or disinformation, but users can search fact check results from the web about any topic or person.
  4. Vaccine Insights Hub
    • “Live insights, intelligence and reporting guidance on emerging health and vaccine misinformation.”
  5. AFP Health Fact Checking
    • “An introduction to concepts you’ll need to master to fact check claims around health and the environment.”
  6. Infodemic Management from the World Health Organization.
    • A resource provided by WHO on outbreak response and what is deemed our current “infodemic.” Provides clear definitions of keywords, examples, timely updates and webinars.
  7. News Literacy Project’s Get Smart About COVID Misinformation
    • Includes free resources for educators, students and the general public, along with links to authoritative sources of health information. You’ll also find tips, tools and quizzes to build news literacy skills that will last long after this public health crisis abates.
  8. ScienceUpFirst Credible Sources
    • This list is curated by a team in Canada dedicated to debunking health misinformation, particularly related to Covid-19
  9. ViralFacts
    • A coalition dedicated to debunking health misinformation in Africa.

Different Types of Vaccines

  1. The World Health Organization explains how the different types of COVID-19 vaccines work in their “Vaccines Explained” series.
  2. AFP News Agency: Understanding mRNA vaccines
    • Hopes for massive vaccination campaigns against Covid-19, which should begin before the end of the year, were reinforced by the announcement of a third vaccine. Two of these vaccines are based on “messenger RNA” technology. How do these vaccines work?
  3. BioPharma Dive: Coronavirus vaccines are rolling out quickly. Here’s where the pipeline stands.
    • Lays out vaccine pipeline, with history of development and details on manufacturer, funding and technology type. Informs on vaccine efficacy and testing timelines.

Database of COVID-19 Expert Sources

Have an expert to add to this database? Fill out this form by Friday, April 9, 2021.

United States

  1. SciLine is a free resource for journalists at local news organizations only.
    • “We especially encourage local, general assignment, and other reporters who do not specialize in scientific topics to make use of our free services. Questions? Contact us at
  2. Florian Krammer, Ph.D. Professor of microbiology at Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai, New York City, New York (knows about Europe as well – due to family connections and origin). Email:
    • Helpful source for information about vaccines. Specialty is in viruses and virology, vaccine development, immunology, infectious disease, influenza virus, mucosal immunology.
  3. NPR’s COVID-19 Diverse Sources Database “contains experts from racially or ethnically underrepresented backgrounds who can provide context and insight on the COVID-19 crisis. Each source has spoken to the media on their topic of expertise before, and most of them have spoken on the radio.”


  1. Scott A. Halperin, MD. Director of Canadian Center for Vaccinology and professor of pediatrics and microbiology and immunology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. Phone: 1-902-470-8141; Email:
    • A helpful source for information on vaccines
  2. Danuta Skowronski. Epidemiology Lead, Influenza & Emerging Respiratory Pathogens at British Columbia Centre for Disease Control in B.C., Canada. Phone: 604-707-2511; Email:
    • Specialty is in the flu vaccine but a helpful source for information on all vaccines


  1. Dr. Christian Drosten. Doctor of Medicine at Charité (Europe’s largest university hospital) in Berlin, Germany. Email:
    • Virologist who specializes in Sars-Viruses and is a helpful source for information on vaccines
  2. Elisabeth Puchhammer-Stöckl. Doctor of Medicine, university professor at the Medical University of Vienna in Vienna, Austria. Phone: +43 (0)1 40160-65501.
    • Specializes in virology and is a helpful source for information on vaccines.
  3. Ursula Wiedermann-Schmidt. Doctor of Medicine, university professor at Medical University of Vienna in Vienna, Austria. Email:
    • Specializes in vaccinology and immunology and is a helpful source for information on vaccines.
  4. Alain Fischer. Doctor of Medicine at Hospital of Paris in Paris, France and advisor to the French government Email:; Phone: +33 1 44494822.
    • Specializes in genetic diseases and is a helpful source for information on vaccines.

Compiled by:

Fergus Bell, Smitha Khorana, Allison Collins, Marisha Goldhamer, Hugo Williams, Jennifer Welsh, Tracy Maher, Aashka Dave, Gülin Cavus, Kristen Watson, Dustin Block, Lara Salahi, Douglas Fischer, Sarah Emler

Special thanks to Ned Pagliarulo and Mike Webb for submitting resources.

Learn more about other ONA Community Circles here.

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