This post was written by Exygy, who partners with social impact organizations to design and build technology that improves lives.
Health systems, government agencies, and private organizations must work together to bridge gaps in access to critical resources. Spatial mapping and analysis may be the key to uncovering health disparities and diminishing such inequities.
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected minority groups, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has left many BIPOC and other underserved communities with minimal access to highly coveted immunizations. From Palm Beach to Dallas County to Washington D.C., regions across the country have tried and haplessly failed to prioritize high-quality, equitable healthcare and social support to those most in need. Wealthy white individuals are being inoculated at higher rates, in some places up to 3x the rate, than any other demographic. This is yet another addition to the mountain of evidence proving the U.S. has again missed the mark on establishing systems that center our most marginalized folks. These siloed approaches to tackling one of the biggest crises of the past century leaves us wondering, “Will we ever be able to translate our intentions into equitable impact?”
In addition to inaccessible internet service and devices, minimal technological literacy, and the inability to travel or take time off work, a significant reason for inequitable vaccine rollout is due to pharmacy deserts. Like food deserts, pharmacy deserts are areas in which there are very few, sometimes none, brick-and-mortar pharmacies that can reasonably be accessed by foot and that have adequate Rx medications for their community. In the case of a global pandemic, this leaves thousands of vulnerable Americans struggling to protect themselves against the deadly virus.
Using Spatial Mapping to Uncover Disparities
A 2020 health policy analysis conducted by the Rural Policy Research Institute found 111 rural U.S. counties with no pharmacies equipped with vaccines. To visualize the extent of this nationwide problem, watch makepath’s in-depth video or read their article identifying pharmacy deserts with open source GIS tools. With spatial mapping, also known as 3D reconstruction, we can pinpoint the exact location of those in need, beginning to uncover the origins of such problems and possible solutions.
Spatial Mapping as a Force for Good
So how can we use spatial mapping for social good? One recent initiative is VaccineFinder.org. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Digital Service, and Boston Children’s Hospital released a free online service to find available vaccines. This innovative tool is based off of MedFinder.org, a resource Exygy designed and developed with Boston Children’s Hospital, after the widespread 2017-2018 flu season.
VaccineFinder is not the only example of spatial mapping technology and open source health data coming together to create tools to fight this crisis. Huge Ma, a frustrated software developer from New York, built TurboVax, a site that aggregates vaccine supply data from multiple cities’ systems in New York, in two weeks for $50. There’s also VaccineCA, a volunteer-run program that provides up-to-date vaccine information in California, offered in multiple languages. For a closer look at this issue, check out: Why is an Equitable COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout So Hard?
Making vaccinations easy and accessible to everyone is no simple feat. Solving this challenge requires understanding the lived experience of all people, especially the marginalized and BIPOC community, and designing a path that is equitable each step of the way.
Where have you seen others at work for an equitable vaccine rollout? What role does technology play? Let’s continue the conversation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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