According to the Social Vulnerability Index and COVID-19 dashboard, COVID-19 cases appeared to steadily decline on a national level as we entered 2021. At a glance, this can paint a picture of efficient vaccine distribution. However, a closer look shows that not all localities followed this trend – for example, cases rose significantly in Michigan during the same time period, suggesting that their vaccination rates may have stagnated. In order for a COVID-19 vaccine rollout to be successful, governments and healthcare organizations must create programs to ensure that vaccines are distributed equitably.
Case studies have already shown us that data-driven collaboration between federal, state, and local governments and healthcare organizations plays an essential role in decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, these agencies and organizations must continue to work together at a high level to understand why certain areas have experienced disproportionately higher rates of infection and death and see that their plans for vaccine distribution prioritize effectively reaching these populations. Looking at the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) is integral to successful vaccine distribution, as the SVI helps public health officials better understand how outside factors may have contributed to such disparities in the spread and severity of COVID-19, and, in turn, informs action that can prioritize vulnerable areas.
The SVI was created by the CDC using U.S. Census data to help public health officials identify areas that would need the most support following an emergency event. The SVI ranks localities based on 14 social factors related to socioeconomic status, household composition, minority status, and housing/transportation. Now, officials are using this data to help inform how to distribute vaccines equitably and efficiently across varying communities.
Hall County in Georgia is an example of why examining the SVI is important to vaccine distribution. While the west side of Hall County raised zero social vulnerability flags, the east side experienced the complete opposite, raising six flags. As the “Poultry Capital of the World”, Hall County is one of the largest chicken-producing counties in the world – with most of the processing plants concentrated on the east side. The social vulnerability flags raised showed that there was a high concentration of people on the east side who were living below the poverty line, had never graduated high school, lived in crowded homes, and were disproportionately racial minorities. With this data, officials quickly saw poultry plants, which employed mostly migrant workers at low incomes and in tight working conditions, as explanation for why certain parts of Hall County were more susceptible to COVID-19 outbreaks than others. Hall County then used this information to target their mass vaccination efforts toward poultry plant workers.
It is up to the cooperation of county officials, healthcare workers, and public agencies to see that they consider these social vulnerabilities when distributing vaccines. With the help of the Social Vulnerability Index and COVID-19 dashboard, Hall County was able to identify and address two issues spurred by social vulnerabilities that may have otherwise impeded vaccine accessibility on the east side – transportation and language. By offering van service with low fares to and from vaccination sites and making sure that information about the vaccine was available to a non-English speaking audience, Hall County was able to make sure they were not excluding marginalized communities from their reach.
The Social Vulnerability Index and COVID-19 dashboard, developed through a partnership between IPC Global and Qlik, is a public-facing platform with comprehensive data on COVID-19, including SVI data that can be broken down by locality. The dashboard provides research-on-demand through a data network model that is able to grab data from a multitude of sources and integrate it seamlessly. For example, in addressing social vulnerabilities, officials often have to look for specific grants in order to bring the proper funding. The dashboard can integrate this data so that it’s not necessary to make separate searches each time.
To see live data about COVID-19 and SVI, check out the Social Vulnerability Index and COVID-19 dashboard. You can also learn more by viewing the webinar Tracking COVID-19 Vaccination in Your Community.