Tech gives vaccine programs a shot in the arm as Qualtrics study highlights the importance of user experience in mass take-up

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan February 22, 2021 Audio mode
Vaccinations are the key to getting to the so-called 'new normal'. Enterprise tech is playing its role in getting the jabs to people's arms, but there's a need to focus on experience-based messaging to counter hesitancy in key communities.

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The emergence of COVID-19 vaccines is the good news that millions around the world have waited to hear for over a year. But there are those who still harbor (vocal) doubts about their rollout, doubts that need to be overcome if successful mass-vaccination is to be achieved. 

A recent study by Kantar Public, polling 7,133 people across the US, UK, France, Italy, India, Germany and The Netherlands, found some striking variations in national attitudes to the prospect of being vaccinated.  France and the USA displayed the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy - 40% and 25% respectively - whereas respondents in India, Italy and the UK - 82%, 80% and 76% - are most likely to definitely/probably get the jab. 

These attitudes present a challenge for those in authority, argues Emmanuel Rivière, Director of International Polling and Political Advisory for Kantar Public:

The scale of the communications challenge facing governments hoping to improve vaccine acceptance is revealed in this study. Vaccine hesitancy remains for large minorities in France, Germany and the US, where citizens can be twice or three times as likely to trust their family doctor as they are their government. As policymakers consider how best to improve vaccine take-up in the coming months, it will be important to note that health authorities are still considered the most authoritative sources of reliable information on Covid vaccines, some four times higher than social media.

Back in December, Qualtrics and Duke University in North Carolina conducted their own US Vaccine Message Testing study, polling more than 4,000 adults about their attitude towards a vaccine and what would make them most likely to get vaccinated. 

It’s clear from the responses that the messaging seen in the US during the crisis has been problematic, with more than half of those polled (54%) saying the White House - occupied by Donald Trump at the time of the poll - had not taken the risk of COVID seriously enough, while 45% believed the media had exaggerated the risks around the virus to a greater or lesser extent.

One of the main conclusions that stems from this is how much messaging matters when it comes to influencing intent to take the vaccine, and how important it is for governments and health authorities to personalize that messaging to individual demographics and communities. One size doesn’t fit all. For example, the data suggests that communities of color tend to have lower confidence and trust in their public health systems.

People are more likely to be receptive to take action when they hear a message from someone they trust, like a doctor (42%) or a trusted family member (34%).  Given the problematic response to the US government’s historical stance on the virus, local and federal authorities need to tap into data and insights on what messaging will appeal to specific constituencies, one of the challenges that Qualtrics own Vaccine Navigator is intended to address.

Getting into arms 

Now that vaccines are available, the other critical challenge of course is that of getting them into people’s arms. Alarmingly, some 61% of respondents in Qualtrics study said they had only some/little/no confidence that their states have effective systems in place to deliver the vaccine to where it’s needed. 

Tech firms have risen to the challenge of vaccine management and distribution. For example, Qualtrics solutions are being used by 200 governments across all 50 US states, including the State of Missouri, the City of Sacramento, Winnebago County, Illinois and Oakland County, Michigan. Meanwhile Workday’s COVID-19 Vaccine Management Solution is targeted at tracking the immunization status of employees, as  well as monitoring vaccination rates throughout the company.

The crisis has in many ways played to the strengths of many enterprise tech firms. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is using Oracle’s National Electronic Health Records Cloud plus Oracle’s Public Health Management Applications Suite to manage the COVID-19 vaccination program throughout the United States, using the Oracle National EHR Cloud to act as the CDC’s central data repository - or ‘clearing house’ - for all vaccination data in the US. 

Meanwhile ServiceNow is approaching the vaccination program as, in the words of CEO Bill McDermott, part of “the greatest workflow challenge of our time”. The firm recently announced the first in a suite of vaccine administration applications, with the State of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services using this to help vaccinate 10 million North Carolinians. Outside of the US, the firm is also a key plank in the NHS in Scotland’s goal of vaccinating all 5.5 million citizens in the country within three months, allowing the health service to schedule 220,000 vaccination appointments within 12 hours of launch last month. 

Lake County roll-out

Another powerful use case in action was to be seen at Salesforce’s World Tour event earlier this month in the shape of the Lake County Health Department (LCHD) in Northern Illinois, population 700,000, a total topped up by a changing demographic of visitors and commuters. In only eight weeks, the LCHD set up and deployed its Lake County AllVax Portal, an online vaccine registration and orchestration system built on Salesforce’s Customer 360 Platform for Government. Jefferson McMillan-Wilhoit, Director of Health Informatics and Technology at LCHD, explained:

Everyone across the globe is really clamoring for this vaccine, as we all should. Everybody wants to get our lives back and we want to get back to that environment that everyone has been talking about, about being able to see our family and be with our friends again. But there's a lot of logistics involved in doing that and that's one of the reasons why we built the AllVax system. We want to shield our community from all of those logistics.

AllVax is intended to act a single source of truth that guides Lake County residents through the vaccination process. Entering the portal via Experience Cloud, users create a personal profile and are able to access FAQs about the vaccination program in general. A customer record is created in Health Cloud, which is used to determine eligibility for vaccination.  McMillan-Wilhoit said:

When it comes to vaccine orchestration, having a single source of truth is the most important thing. The CDC changes their information almost daily now. Our system has to be able to respond to that. Our system can talk to other hospitals, to pharmacies, to businesses and their HR systems. We are able to get this 360 degree view of our community members.

That data sharing and integration with state, federal and third-party business systems is enabled by MuleSoft APIs, while Tableau analytics provide ongoing updates on the status of the vaccination program overall, enablling decisions on resource planing and allocation as well as highlighting trends and changes as circumstances continue to evolve. The system is able to track multiple key metrics, including how many people are eligible for vaccination, how many have registered - and who they are - as well as how many have been vaccinated. 

Engagement with AllVax has been encouraging, with over 200,000 people signed up to the vaccination program as of earlier this month. McMillan-Wilhoit concluded: 

I think the one thing that everyone across the globe can do to support their public servants, who are really trying to work very hard to get this vaccine out, is to say, 'I'm ready, I'm here to get my vaccine when it's available for me' and know that we are all trying our very best to get that vaccine out to everyone who wants it.

My take

Important work. As someone counting down the days until I can get my jab, I’m happy to go along with McMillan-Wilhoit’s suggested response. At the same time, I remain disturbed by the level of anti-vax sentiment I see too much of on social media platforms - it changes your DNA; the vaccine is made out of fetal tissue; Bill Gates can control your mind via the injection; it’s all a global conspiracy and Dr Fauci’s in on it...yada yada yada. 

The Qualtrics study’s findings on the importance of effective messaging definitely chime here. All too often health-centric campaigns take a heavy-handed ‘big stick’ approach in the early stages, with fear as the underlying motivator for preventative action. This global crisis demands a a more sophisticated response as it enters this new Vaccine Economy era, one that’s enacted at local level according to the recipient audience. There's too much riding on the success of the worldwide vaccination program as the way to allow us back to the so-called ‘new normal’ to allow falsehoods and misinformation to spread unchallenged and deter take-up. The tech sector has a big part to play here in getting accurate data to people and not just the hothouses of Fake News that are the social media platforms. Fortunately the evidence is that the enterprise tech industry as a whole has risen to the challenge. 

Not all roll-out programs have been equally successful to date, of course. At a national level, Israel has set the pace, while the UK has also plowed ahead. In contrast, the European Union’s collective approach to a vaccination program has attracted enormous criticism from within across the region. And then there’s the thorny question of how to help those parts of the world that aren’t up-and-running with vaccine programs, with the United Nations stating that 130 countries have yet to deliver a single dose. 

Once vaccines have reached mass adoption rates, tracking who has received the jab and who hasn’t will become ever more important. The notion of vaccine passports has become a hot topic, with questions raised as to whether they should be restricted to enabling international travel or whether they ought to be used to accelerate the re-opening of large parts of locked-down life, such as the hospitality sector. 

From a tech perspective, Salesforce, Oracle and Microsoft are among those to have signed up to the Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI), aimed at developing common solutions that will allow people to keep and access a record of their vaccination history in a mobile app. The system will be based on a framework called SMART Health Cards, which was developed on the basis of HL7 FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) standards, which are already used by health organizations.

Beyond the tech practicalities though, there are ethical and moral questions that need to be addressed. There’s a risk of inadvertent discrimination, for example, given that there will always be people who can’t get vaccinated, such as those with underlying health conditions or (at present) pregnant women. That said, a UK poll this weekend on vaccine passports found 2/3 of respondents to be in favor of their introduction.  They’re a price worth paying to speed up getting back to cinemas, pubs and gyms ASAP, it seems - and indeed in Israel, a passport scheme is in place if you want to access certain venues.

Still, as things stand, it’s worth remembering the maxim that just because tech makes something possible, that doesn’t mean we should automatically do it. But while we wrestle with that, do us all a favor - go and get vaccinated!