What’s working (and what’s not) with COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Public health agencies have made remarkable progress with vaccine management, and data and analytics can help them address remaining needs.

By | 3 minute read | March 3, 2021

A nurse gives vaccine to a senior patient while both wear masks.

While the world waited for COVID-19 vaccines, public health agencies were planning their approaches to one of the most complicated, urgent vaccination efforts in history. What have we learned from the early stages of vaccine distribution?

First, I’d credit public health agencies with how well they anticipated the challenges associated with this effort. There is an emerging view that many expectations have been validated by real-world experience. Second, these organizations have shown incredible innovation and flexibility in the face of very difficult circumstances. And, finally, there is general recognition of the importance of meeting equitable distribution goals – and that there are still pockets of need that exist and need to be more fully addressed.

Overall rates of vaccination

Given the logistical complexity of vaccinating an entire population as quickly as possible, vaccine supply chains have been tested like never before. The progress thus far is significant, with about 77 million doses having been administered, but with only about 7.7% of the population having been fully vaccinated, there is still a long way to go.1

The biggest obstacles – manufacturing capabilities, storing vials at the correct temperature as they are transported, shipping to diverse networks of administration sites, keeping the supply chain secure – are all interconnected complex logistics. Targeted analytics can help address other challenges, such as health equity and vaccine hesitancy.

Health equity

When we view vaccination through a lens of race and ethnicity, we see a continuation of inequity in healthcare. The first challenge is that race and ethnicity data is often incomplete; in the CDC’s data from 50 million people with one or more doses administered, race and ethnicity was only available for about half of them.2 The new U.S. administration has signaled its recognition of these facts, setting goals to improve data collection on high-risk groups and provide equitable access to vaccines, and launching a program to ship doses of vaccine directly to federally funded clinics in underserved areas.3

Unfortunately, some early analysis of available ethnic and racial vaccination data from US states indicates that the vaccination rate within minority groups is small compared to the disproportionally large impact from COVID-19 cases and deaths. Furthermore, vaccination rates within these communities are lower compared to their share of the total population.4 It raises questions about  health disparity in access to the vaccines.

To help with more equitable distribution, many states are using the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index (SVI)5 to prioritize communities. SVI is a good start, and deeper analytics capabilities for sociodemographic microtargeting can augment use of the framework by providing more precise insights about how populations seek and engage with healthcare services. For public health agencies building out a vaccine strategy, it’s important to consider multiple, sometimes non-traditional data sources, such as analysis of social media sentiment.

Vaccine hesitancy

Delivering a vaccine effectively also requires a population willing to receive it. People appear to be more receptive to the vaccine over time. According to one survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, more people indicated they would get the vaccine as soon as possible in February 2021 (55%) than in December 2020 (34%)6. While the number of people who would get it only if required (or not at all) is shrinking, that is still a significant portion of the population that is exhibiting vaccine hesitancy.

The underlying causes for concern vary by population group. For example, the majorities of Black and Hispanic adults say they don’t have enough information about vaccine side effects of effectiveness, while rural residents are more likely to say severity of COVID-19 is exaggerated than residents in urban or suburban areas.7

Overcoming vaccine hesitancy requires tailored community outreach. Targeted analytics can uncover how different cohorts make healthcare decisions, what media they listen to, and their preferred types of communication. These insights can help enable more personalized outreach. For example, we worked with one organization that used socio-demographic data to create three distinct, personalized communications paths based on each cohort’s likelihood to use telemedicine services.

How targeted analytics can help

Public health agencies should celebrate the tremendous progress that has been made, while they continue to address existing needs in overall vaccination rate, vaccine hesitancy and health equity.

Targeted analytics can help public health agencies design more effective vaccination dissemination efforts. For example, they can uncover insights from population attitudes, risks and behaviors to develop custom outreach plans. They can use socio-demographic insights to optimize locations of vaccination sites and monitor inventory. Targeted analytics can also enable post-vaccine monitoring for adverse events. These capabilities are important to help build a safe, healthy vaccine distribution program, especially to serve critical populations.

  1. Number of people having received 2 doses is 25,366,405, accessed Mar. 2, 2021 https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations
  2. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccination-demographic accessed Mar. 2, 2021
  3. https://www.whitehouse.gov/priorities/covid-19/
  4. “Early State Vaccination Data Raise Warning Flags for Racial Equity” by Nambi Ndugga, Olivia Pham, Latoya Hill, Samantha Artiga, and Salem Mengistu for KFF on Jan. 21, 2021 kff.org
  5. atsdr.cdc.gov
  6. KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, accessed Mar. 2, 2021 kff.org
  7. KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, accessed Feb. 17, 2021 kff.org