Maps have long been used by authorities and health officials to track and visualize the spread of diseases. The most famous example is John Snow’s studies of the cholera epidemic in the Golden Square area of London in 1854. Today, in response to the COVID-19 health crisis, maps have provided a valuable lens into the pandemic response from real-time data sharing and analysis to visualization and planning.
But for months, public health experts have affirmed that developing a safe and effective vaccine is a crucial part for containing this virus. And as we inch closer to an effective and approved vaccine, how can leaders and public health officials distribute it equitably and speedily?
Geographic information systems (GIS) offer a solution. For example, GIS mapping technology was used in Nigeria to help health officials target specific areas for immunization efforts in the fight against polio. GIS combined satellites, mobile devices, and mapping software capabilities to capture, analyze, and present data as legible and informative maps. These maps made it possible to read distance and proximity with the realistic placement of mapping features, to ensure that all settlements and hamlets were visited by vaccination teams, and the correct number and type of teams were deployed.
According to Esri, leaders and public health officials can leverage GIS technology to fine-tune vaccination scenario plans related to priority and delivery, assess logistics with public health and emergency management advisors, analyze supply chain capacity and operations, and determine a communication strategy.
In their plan, Esri highlighted five ways in which GIS can support the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Identify Strong Facilities Capable of Distributing the Vaccine: There are a variety of factors that need to be assessed in the distribution of the vaccine and its storage. Factors such as parking, accessibility to vulnerable populations, distance from vaccine production facilities, traffic, and overall venue size will impact which facilities can properly store and distribute a vaccine. And mapping potential facilities in the vaccination process is the first step to ensuring adequate population coverage.
- Identify and Prioritize Critical Populations: Leaders and health officials must be both strategic and ethical with the distribution of the vaccine. A dot density map of various population clusters can help in mapping priority groups for each phase of the COVID-19 vaccination, and also offers insight for leaders as they develop a distribution plan.
- Identify Gaps in Access and Formulate Alternative Distribution Options: After potential vaccine distribution facilities and priority populations are identified, potential gaps can be seen, and communities can evaluate solutions. GIS technology is especially useful when considering complex criteria, such as accessibility, population makeup, ingress and egress, budget, and more.
- Implement a Vaccine Management and Inventory System: Some vaccine candidates require two doses for immunity against COVID-19. Therefore, it is essential to understand who has received the first dose of a vaccination, which vaccine was given, and when it is time for the second dose. A digital survey tool can be configured to capture relevant data at the point of vaccine administration or inventory reconciliation. The ArcGIS Survey123 app from Esri offers an easy-to-use option for collecting this data from a smartphone or tablet.
- Provide Transparency and Accurate Communication: As the vaccine is distributed, it will be crucial to know the progress of each facility in executing their plan, monitoring whether their populations are experiencing adverse effects, and tracking the proportion of the community that has been vaccinated. ArcGIS Hub was built specifically as a community engagement platform, offering access to data, maps, and apps related to a designated initiative.
According to a recent memorandum from the National Governors Association, the challenge of vaccine development is matched by the challenge of vaccine distribution. This will be a massive vaccine distribution effort. GIS has been a proven tool to support improved vaccination coverage and will be crucial for scenario-planning and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Featured image: Sample vaccine venue map in which red dots indicate capacity for ultra-cold storage, and yellow dots can provide normal cold storage. Dot size indicates overall capacity. Lines represent drive time and distance to the venue from various population centers. The darker blue the dot representing the population center, the higher the concentration of prioritized populations. | Image Credit: Esri