Vaccine distribution: Targeted analytics can help prioritize critical populations

Data and analytics can help public health agencies identify people most in need of the COVID-19 vaccine and tailor outreach to them – block by block.

By | 3 minute read | January 4, 2021

Public health agencies are continuously preparing for various emergency response situations – but few could have anticipated the massive scale and complexity of rapidly distributing a COVID-19 vaccine. Consider just a few of the complicated logistical factors: multiple vaccines coming out, requirements to keep them cold, a limited supply, dealing with new contractors, two doses required, dissemination in locations outside the medical system.

Then public health agencies must determine: How do we reach those who need the vaccine most?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has offered guidance1 on how states should approach vaccine distribution, including which populations should receive the vaccine first. There appears to be general agreement about placing the highest priority on essential healthcare workers, seniors in nursing homes and first responders.

The challenge public agencies face is the next step – understanding the risks, behaviors and attitudes that may be barriers to vaccination for critical populations, then making important decisions about how to identify, prioritize and provide access to these at-risk groups.

How public health agencies can pursue more equitable distribution

The pandemic has further exposed pre-existing health disparities. For example, even with incomplete race and ethnicity health data, it is clear that Black, Latino, Asian and American Indian populations have greater infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths when compared with white populations.2

Social determinants of health – such as poverty, inadequate housing, lack of access to transportation – also contribute to health disparities within communities. Public health agencies have many standard tools and approaches to help identify at-risk communities, such as the CDC Social Vulnerability Index.3 These tools are a great first step, but using advanced analytics can offer more precise socio-demographic insights about the deep social needs of neighborhoods, and how they change from block to block.

Let’s take a closer look at how precise socio-demographic insights can help public health agencies pursue more equitable distribution. It’s important to recognize that there is lot of variation within broad demographic groups. A single racial or ethnic group cannot be treated as a monolith, nor can the same generation. Precision cohorting, using multiple data sources – such as community resources, social needs, and cultural preferences within communities – can help agencies effectively identify at-risk populations, and design targeted outreach and intervention strategies.

Overcoming vaccine hesitancy requires tailored community outreach

Different socio-demographic groups will require different approaches for effective engagement. Knowing more about the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs of different cohorts, how they make healthcare decisions, what media they listen to and their preferred types of communication – all enable more personalized outreach. For example, one group may tend to trust their doctor and prefer telephone communication, so a pre-recorded message from their doctor that encourages them to get the vaccine might be more effective than a text or letter in the mail.

Precise analytic insights can help public agencies more effectively address the source of vaccine hesitancy. A recent PULSE® Health Poll found that 35% of all respondents said they would get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available and 41% said they would wait before deciding. The most common reasons given for waiting were concerns about safety (36%) and concerns about side effects (25%). Of the respondents who said they would not get the vaccine at all, 34% cited concerns about safety and 12% said they simply did not need it.4

If public health agencies have more precise data about the people they serve, they are more likely to design effective communications and interventions. Insights can help better equip agencies to personalize approaches to meet the needs of at-risk cohorts, which is an important strategy to deliver more equitable care.

  4. Results represent responses from 3,008 survey participants interviewed from November 1 – 14, 2020, with a margin of error of +/- 1.8%.