Columbia World Projects (CWP) on Thursday announced the launch of two projects that aim to address pressing aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The projects will focus on increasing confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine and on developing new digital interventions for populations at high risk of developing long-term mental health conditions as a result of the pandemic.
“These projects address the COVID-19 pandemic in original ways, and they have the potential to have real impact in the years to come. The partnerships that the projects are forging between scholars and researchers at the university and state and local governments align with CWP’s mission of connecting Columbia more closely to the world at large,” CWP’s director, Nicholas Lemann, said. “As the profound effects of the pandemic continue to affect every aspect of our lives, our work to conceive, develop and launch these projects to meet the needs of the moment is urgent.”
The two projects are launching immediately with a timeline of two years. They are:
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.
Increasing vaccine confidence begins with the creation of 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.
The effort to study and address vaccine hesitancy involves a diverse, trans-disciplinary team that includes literary scholars, data scientists, political scientists, community leaders, and public health officials. The core team will partner with public health departments—including the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and Ulster County in New York State—to help shape the public’s perception of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
The interdisciplinary project is led by Rishi Goyal, of Columbia University’s Department of Emergency Medicine, Medical Humanities and Ethics, and the Institute of Comparative Literature and Society; and Dennis Yi Tenen, of Columbia University’s Department of English and Comparative Literature and the Data Science Institute who together provide expertise in the humanities, medicine and data science.
As COVID-19 continues to spread across the United States and the world, a growing number of people, especially health care workers and other essential workers, are at high risk for developing long-term mental health conditions as a result of the pandemic.
This project will work to address this problem by creating, testing, and delivering new digital mental health care tools. These will include brief online videos to reduce stigma and empower individuals to seek treatment for mental health issues; and interactive behavioral change modules – digital tools that aim to reduce psychiatric symptoms by encouraging limited exposure to social media, more social support, better sleep habits and physical exercise. In partnership with the New York State Office of Mental Health (NYS OMH) these resources will be made available via NYS OMH’s online platform and disseminated as part of a statewide effort to make digital mental health interventions that meet the growing needs of high-risk groups more accessible.
The project’s team members include Dr. Doron Amsalem, Dr. Lisa B. Dixon, Dr. Sidney H. Hankerson and Dr. Roberto Lewis-Fernández of Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry and the New York State Psychiatric Institute; Yuval Neria, PhD, of Columbia University’s Departments of Psychiatry and Epidemiology, and the New York State Psychiatric Institute; Dr. Thomas E. Smith of Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the New York State Office of Mental Health; and Dr Melanie Wall of Columbia University’s Departments of Biostatistics and Psychiatry, and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.
Both projects emerged from CWP’s June 2020 COVID-19 Forum. Project ideas were generated ahead of the Forum by participants with a range of expertise in public health, mental health, epidemiology and education. The Forum brought together more than 35 experts to evaluate and shape these project ideas and help identify which of them Columbia World Projects could successfully implement to address aspects of the pandemic. A third project that emerged from the Forum, Tools and Connections: Strengthening Support for COVID-19 Bereavement in Black Communities in Harlem, is still in development.