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Solving the vaccine data problem

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  1. skybrian
    From the blog post: [...] [...]

    From the blog post:

    VaccinateCA, the non-profit I have been leading for the last few months, has expanded to Vaccinate The States. (Consider it a beta; we will keep improving it, but it can save lives today, so today it goes up.)


    The core insight of VaccinateCA on Day 1 was that, if doses were actually being injected, that the person actually doing the injecting both a) knew whether or not they had more doses and b) to whom they could administer them. Essentially all other data in the ecosystem were stale or lies. Promulgated county policy? Doesn’t matter if a pharmacy chain isn’t following it. Reported stock numbers? Doesn’t matter if the database disagrees with the pharmacist on how many doses are left in the bottle.

    While many waited for there to be a grand technical solution to the issue, we started with the scrappy startup version: call locations which might have doses. There are, after all, a finite number of pharmacies and hospitals. At this point we were unknown, uncredentialed, unaided volunteers who had no special connections or expertise, so we did exactly what a vaccine seeker would do: pick up the phone book and start dialing.


    As we got a bit of press for being a volunteer-led effort while there were not high-quality government-backed efforts available, we were worried about getting told to not interfere. Gradually, the opposite happened. First quietly, and then formally, various official parties in California started to talk to us and ask what we were seeing in the data.

    This is probably surprising, but true: the formal vaccination efforts also had a data problem. Governments did not always know precisely where the vaccines were being administered, or under precisely which eligibility criteria. Ground truth was critical for vaccine seekers but no one had it for them.

    The formal effort didn’t know to what extent formally promulgated policies were being followed. This was often very spotty and often at a lag. Pharmacists often learned of changes in eligibility criteria by reading about them in the paper a few days after they had formally changed.

    So we started developing some backchannels to report individual incidents that our phone operations discovered, and also passed over data sets and analyses in an ad hoc manner. We were able to e.g. unstick hundreds of doses in a particular county which were chillin’ in freezers because the local health department had, in all the hustle and bustle, missed a single CSV upload and therefore wasn’t scheduling appointments at a dozen pharmacies. (No one noticed because there was no infrastructure to check. It was no one’s job.)

    1 vote