Report published on how socioeconomic data can contribute to infectious disease research

29 August 2023

In May, DANS co-organized the ‘BY-COVID Workshop on the integration of socioeconomic data in observational studies on vaccine effectiveness’ in The Hague. A joint report by workshop participants and other experts has now been published, describing the presentations, discussions during the event, and providing a roadmap for how socioeconomic data can contribute to studies of vaccine effectiveness as well as other infectious disease research moving forward.

The BY-COVID workshop aimed to explore how socioeconomic data can be better integrated and used in infectious disease research, by highlighting the work of the BY-COVID project and several related initiatives in the Netherlands and Belgium (for more information about the BY-COVID project and the workshop, please see this previous news piece. Following the workshop, the participants and other invited experts contributed to the joint report on the topics discussed during the event that has now been published. 

The report demonstrates that the Dutch-Belgian landscape is full of activity related to socioeconomic and infectious disease related data sources, and that the field is rapidly developing. It also highlights how there are several shared challenges as well as opportunities related to how socioeconomic data can be used in infectious disease research. Some recurring themes mentioned during the workshop were:

  1. Linking data: Linking socioeconomic data with data from other sources, disciplines, and countries, particularly at the individual level, is key to understanding how infectious diseases spread and are mitigated. For example, the Belgian Helicon project demonstrates how linking socio-economic data  with administrative data on administrative and health care data can provide evidence on how COVID-19 affects different population groups over time. 
  2. Data security: However, linking data involves overcoming challenges surrounding data security, privacy, and ethical principles. Socioeconomic data tends to be particularly sensitive, demanding strict requirements on security. The workshop highlighted several innovative approaches and tools to help accomplish this, including the secure processing environments myDRE by Health-RI, and SANE developed by ODISSEI together with SURF and CLARIAH. 
  3. Harmonising data: Finally, in order to promote the use of socioeconomic data, and the broader goals of  multidisciplinarity and reproducibility, further procedures and standards for harmonising data have to be developed. Initiatives such as the DANS Data Station Social Sciences and Humanities, and the ODISSEI Portal show how standardised and SSH-specific metadata, vocabularies, and a federated infrastructure have made it possible to aggregate and provide public access to thousands of socioeconomic datasets to date. The COVID-19 Data Portal infrastructure in turn demonstrates how metadata from multiple disciplines and countries can be brought together and harmonised. 


The workshop contributed to further collaboration in this landscape, identified best practices, experiences and challenges surrounding the mobilisation and use of SSH data for infectious disease research and practice, and laid the ground for further developments both within the BY-COVID Baseline Use Case, as well as in the wider landscape. The three recurring themes above around linking, securing, and harmonising data are all core objectives of the BY-COVID Baseline Use Case, and the federated approach to data mobilisation that it has developed demonstrates how these challenges can be overcome.

The full workshop report is available on Zenodo.

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