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New tools to support vaccine access and distribution

Relative search volume for COVID-19 vaccination intent in the U.S. on 5/24/21

Editor’s note: COVID-19 Vaccination Search Insights is now available. Find the dashboard here

While over half of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, vaccine uptake is slowing across the country. Research shows a variety of factors are preventing people from getting vaccinated — from physical access issues, like transportation challenges and not being able to take time off work, to concerns about safety and side effects. 

To help public health officials and researchers in the U.S. reach people facing these challenges, we’re introducing new tools to better understand the vaccination needs of a community. This builds on our work of providing data, insights and tools to public health, epidemiologists, researchers and policymakers since the early days of the pandemic. 

Equitable access to vaccinations 

For some people getting vaccinated is as simple as walking a few blocks to their local pharmacy. For others, it may be much more difficult and involve a long drive or navigating public transit. If public health officials, researchers and healthcare providers can identify areas where vaccination sites are inaccessible or hard to reach, they may be able to implement measures like pop-up vaccine sites or transportation support like ride vouchers.  

Our COVID-19 Vaccination Access Dataset, which is available to the public today, calculates travel time to vaccination sites to identify areas where it may be difficult to reach a site whether someone is walking, driving or taking public transportation. We prepared this dataset using Google Maps Platform Directions API, the same API that powers navigation in Google Maps. This dataset does not contain any user data.

This dataset will help power a new Vaccine Equity Planner dashboard from Ariadne Labs, a joint center for health systems innovation at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and  Boston Children’s Hospital, the primary pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. This dashboard integrates our dataset with data from other organizations, such as the CDC’s social vulnerability index, to identify “vaccine deserts,” or areas where people have little or no convenient access to a vaccine site, to inform interventions such as pop-up clinics or new sites. 

Vaccine Equity Planner dashboard for New York and Mississippi

Vaccine Equity Planner dashboard for New York and Mississippi.   

Understanding vaccine information needs 

Public health organizations have been the go-to sources for authoritative information throughout the pandemic, and have provided educational campaigns about the safety, efficacy and availability of vaccines. We’ve heard from public health organizations and researchers that they want access to localized and timely data about what information their communities are seeking so they can tailor their communication to people not yet vaccinated. 

In the coming weeks, we’ll introduce a COVID-19 Vaccination Search Insights tool to help public health officials and researchers explore vaccine-related concerns and the information needs of local communities. The tool will show trends representing the relative search interests across three search categories: all vaccine information, intent to get vaccinated (such as eligibility, availability and sites), and safety and side effects. Insights will be provided at the county and zip code level and updated weekly.  

The trends are based on aggregate and anonymized Google Search data so that no user information is included. The process to anonymize the COVID-19 Vaccination Search Insights is powered by differential privacy, a technique that adds noise to the data to provide privacy guarantees while preserving the overall quality of the data. The data can be compared across different regions and over time, without sharing the absolute number of queries in any given area. 

Both tools will initially be available in English and for the U.S. As we get more feedback from public health organizations, researchers, and the community at large, we’ll evaluate expanding these tools internationally.

With these insights, we hope that public health organizations and healthcare providers can more easily and effectively reach their communities. Google will continue to do its part by providing timely and accurate vaccine information and appointment availability to people in Search and supporting organizations focused on vaccine equity. 

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