Boston Children’s Hospital launches tool to identify vaccine deserts with Ariadne Labs, Google

“Across the nation, there are too many people for whom vaccines still remain out of reach.”

Francisco Seco/The Associated Press

Boston Children’s Hospital is partnering with Ariadne Labs and Google to help local public health officials address areas across the country where residents face limited access to COVID-19 vaccines.

The three organizations launched on Wednesday what they are calling a “Vaccine Equity Planner,” a free online tool that highlights “vaccine deserts” — an area where it is a more than 15-minute drive to the closest COVID-19 vaccination site. The tool also identifies venues, such as primary care practices or pharmacies, that are not yet offering inoculations but could serve as future vaccination sites within the deserts.


“We know that inequities exist in our healthcare infrastructure, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only cast a brighter light on those inequities,” Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a statement. “The Vaccine Equity Planner aims to identify vaccine deserts, areas with low access to COVID-19 vaccination sites, so public health officials and decision makers can intentionally place future vaccination sites in these areas to offer more equitable access to COVID-19 vaccinations for all populations.”

The more than 50,000 vaccination sites across the United States are not equitably distributed, with about 10 percent of the nation’s vaccine-eligible population living more than a 15-minute drive from a publicly advertised vaccination location, the companies said in a statement. According to the planner, there are more than 2,000 primary health care centers across the country that are not currently being utilized that could offer vaccinations.

Using data from Google, the CDC, and VaccineFinder, the tool allows users to model the most effective sites to open to reach vulnerable populations in the vaccine deserts. Users can select different transportation options to assess the distance residents have to travel to sites, and view other risks and barriers to equity the populations face. 


“Across the nation, there are too many people for whom vaccines still remain out of reach,” Dr. Rebecca Weintraub, director of vaccine delivery at Ariadne Labs and an associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in a statement. “To support providers and public health officials, we built the Vaccine Equity Planner to identify existing vaccine deserts and detect promising sites to open within those deserts.”

President Joe Biden laid out the goal of getting 70 percent of Americans at least partially vaccinated by July 4th, a target that now appears out of reach, according to the Associated Press. In order to reach the goal, about 15.5 million unvaccinated adults would need to get at least one dose of the vaccine before Independence Day, but the daily new vaccination rate has dropped below 400,000 people per day in the U.S., compared to the high of almost 2 million a day two months ago.


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