Devin Partida, Editor-In-Chief at ReHack, takes a closer look at the role that population data has had in the dispatch of Covid-19.
People are eager to get back to the pre-pandemic normal as much as possible. Experts say vaccines will be crucial in helping that happen, but distributing them to all eligible recipients is no easy task. Here are some ways population data can help.
Ensuring fair distribution in at-risk groups
One of the challenges associated with the COVID-19 rollout in some places is that there are not enough vaccine supplies immediately available for everyone wanting them. In those limited-supply situations, it’s also vital that best efforts prioritise the people most at risk.
Researchers recently developed a tool that incorporates age and socioeconomic status to assess which people should get vaccinated first when there’s a limited supply. It aids decision-making when eligible recipients have similar job-related risks but may have other factors at play that make COVID-19 especially threatening for them.
The creators initially deployed this prioritisation algorithm to health care workers. However, they say it also applies to larger populations. Using it could aid in getting limited supplies of vaccines to the people who need them most.
Planning optimal vaccination strategies
Population data can also help public health officials determine the best ways to offer the vaccine to eligible segments. For example, a recently published academic paper used data modelling to show that an age-based rollout was the most appropriate for the United Kingdom. More specifically, the research recommended giving the vaccine to the oldest people first due to their heightened vulnerability.
In countries where enough doses exist for anyone who wants them, it becomes critical to identify areas with reduced uptake or people skipping their second shots of two-dose vaccines. Population data can highlight that, too.
For example, New York’s Finger Lakes region has a tremendously rich public-facing dashboard. It shows what percentage of vaccines go to certain distribution outlets for a start. People can also see vaccination data per ZIP code or which groups most often miss their doses. Those statistics could increase people’s eagerness to get vaccinated, especially as they see dose rates in their communities trending upward.
Using population data for improved vaccine and overall health outreach
Besides planning which groups get the vaccine and when people involved with campaigns must figure out the best ways to connect with eligible groups. One recently successful effort involved using multilingual text messages to reach out to potentially underserved segments.
After relying on population data to find those people, text messages were identified as a practical way to tell them about the vaccination process and deliver any other relevant health content. COVID-19 became a crucial matter but not the only concern.
Data showed that delivery rates surpassed 80% for text-based campaigns. Additionally, up to 25% of recipients clicked on content that prompted them to take surveys. These results indicate that communicating with people by text resonates with recipients and could be an excellent way to keep people informed.
Clarifying the Public’s Feelings About the Vaccines
There’s an increasingly vocal movement in some parts of the world comprised of people against all vaccines. The common belief was that such sentiments started relatively recently. However, they first emerged back in the 1880s in connection with the smallpox shots.
One misconception is that anyone with concerns about a vaccine must identify as anti-vaccination. However, many of them are merely hesitant and willing to get shots if health experts respect and address their concerns.
Canadian survey data polled the population to determine the most common reasons people feel uneasy about getting their COVID-19 vaccines. The results showed that 54.2% raised safety concerns. Moreover, 51.7% of people worried about side effects. Even so, more than three-quarters of Canadians indicated a willingness to get the vaccine. Rates vary by province, but knowing what people are concerned about helps shape future conversations with them.
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Population Data Helps the World Get Back on Track
The COVID-19 pandemic has had tremendous ramifications worldwide, closing businesses, virtually stalling economic activity in entire sectors and requiring stringent measures for reopening. However, the good news is that public health experts widely agree vaccines are crucial for helping life return to normal.
In the examples here and others, population data is essential for making vaccine rollouts more productive and practical. That’s critical, especially since many areas of the world don’t have widespread access to vaccines yet. COVID-19 is a global issue. Even as it improves in some places, other locations need all available resources to get the shots to their residents as swiftly as possible.