The Global Sprint To Vaccinate Against COVID-19 – Can Online Data Enable More Efficient Rollouts?
DISCLAIMER: The information in this post is for providing examples for data collection purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice. Any health related questions, and especially those pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, should be discussed with your doctor or primary care provider, or from a reliable online resource such as The CDC or WHO.
According to Bloomberg, more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide – and with that, the hope to rebuild hard-hit economies, and return to a relative state of normalcy, is higher than ever. While some countries have been extremely efficient in the rolling out of their vaccine programs, with their citizens living in close to ‘pre-COVID-19’ conditions, others have struggled for a multitude of reasons.
At the current pace of 18.5 million vaccinations a day, it’s estimated that it will take another 19 months to vaccinate 75% of the world’s population – the supposed ‘magic number’ to reach herd immunity. In the race between the vaccination and the virus, what can the countries lagging behind in the vaccination race learn from those who have been more successful in their rollouts? And what’s online data got to do with it?
The countries winning the race
Israel’s vaccination rollout has been the most successful in the world, with 53% of the country’s 9 million citizens fully vaccinated since its vaccination campaign began in December, and with life very much returning to ‘normal’. Close behind is the UAE, having administered vaccinations to 52% of its 10 million citizens.
Of course, there is no question of the direct correlation between a country’s wealth and the number of vaccines it has access to. However, having access to ample vaccines doesn’t necessarily correlate with effective and timely rollouts. Vaccine rollouts in some countries have been slow due to operational, financial, and logistical bottlenecks.
The countries lagging behind
The World Health Organization (WHO) has criticized the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Europe as being “unacceptably slow”, with only 16% of the population having received one dose of the vaccine. Europe’s vaccine campaign started off bumpy, with regulators slow to approve vaccines, as well as major delivery issues. Vaccine wastage has also proven to be a major obstacle in ensuring all citizens get vaccinated.
How online data can assist in effective vaccine rollouts
Once a country has access to ample vaccines for its citizens, the challenge then turns into administering them effectively in a timely manner, reducing wastage as much as possible and enabling easy access for all citizens. One of the The Bright Initiative partners, FindAShot.org, initiated a first-of-its-kind project to use online data for simple administration of the vaccine in the US. The project ensures those wanting the vaccine are successful in accessing appointments easily.
We sat down with FindAShot.org founder, David Newell, to learn more about his project and how online data is fueling the easy administration of COVID-19 vaccination appointments in the US
Can you tell us about FindAShot.org?
FindAShot.org was born out of the challenges I had when trying to help my parents find a COVID-19 vaccine – specifically finding an appointment. I understood that the process for finding vaccine appointments was going to be challenging, as each pharmacy was going to have its own website through which one could book appointments. That started the process of building an appointment checker that would check all of the pharmacy websites to see if they, essentially, had green boxes. Depending on availability, the calendar would have a grey or green box on each day. From there, it was about automating this checking process. After finding appointments for my parents, I realized other people were going to need help finding appointments over the next several months, and that’s when FindAShot.org was born – a community service project that would help people find available COVID-19 vaccination appointments at local pharmacies. It started with Albertsons brands (e.g., Tom Thumb, Safeway, Vons, Acme), and then expanded to Kroger and, eventually, Walgreens and CVS. Now, we cover 20,000-25,000 locations nationwide. Instead of having to frequently search every single individual pharmacy location to find an available appointment, FindAShot.org is like a “KAYAK” for COVID-19 vaccine appointments – one streamlined search shows all pharmacy locations that currently have appointments available.
Can you tell us how you use automated online data collection, and why it is essential to your organization?
In terms of the need for automated online data collection, I’ll give the example from where I’m currently sitting. There are more than 80 pharmacy locations within a half-hour drive from my location. Most of them would require checking every individual store, and if we do the math for 80 stores – let’s say it takes around 20 seconds to check each one – that means it’s going to take more than 25 minutes just to check the 80 closest pharmacies, and that’s just checking them once. Based on what I’ve been seeing in findashot.org’s data, appointments book sometimes within seconds, but typically within minutes. That means in the time it takes to check all the nearest pharmacies, appointments could have become available and then already booked. It doesn’t include pharmacies that are farther away.
There’s one person I know who used findashot.org to book an appointment in Amarillo – he lives in Dallas – he drove nearly 6 hours to get the vaccine. There’s no way that he could have manually searched all the different pharmacies located within a 6-hour radius. The automated online data collection simplifies and streamlines the collection of that information – without it, it would simply take too much time to find a vaccine appointment.
Which Bright Data product do you use?
Bright Data has helped us scale our ability to perform automated online data collection (or in our case “creation”). In most cases, the pharmacies put in place preventative measures to stop “bad actors” from accessing the site. I am aware of nefarious individuals automatically booking appointments and then selling them. The mechanisms pharmacies have in place also block our good traffic; we’re simply trying to help people find appointments. The Bright Web Unlocker has helped us get unlocked in situations where we have encountered some of those issues that block the appointment checkers. It was very easy to integrate and get it running in about 5-10 minutes. It has also helped reduce the costs of our infrastructure because instead of trying to spin up new appointment checkers somewhere else to get unlocked, we simply switched over and used the ‘Unlocker’ to integrate into the existing checkers.
And so the question remains – can methodologies like FindAShot.org’s be replicated in other countries to enable efficient vaccination rollouts and ensure vaccine appointment availability for all citizens?
The simple answer is yes – however it really depends on how countries are administering vaccines. If they’re being administered on an appointment basis, FindAShot’s methodology, leveraging online data collection, can certainly be replicated and all citizens can have access to vaccine appointments with limited wastage. However, if countries are administering vaccines on a ‘waitlist’ basis, this particular methodology wouldn’t be effective.
One thing is for sure – in the global sprint to vaccinate against COVID-19, initiatives like Newell’s, driven by online data, can have an enormous impact on how quickly we are able to return to normal life.