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Building Vaccine Confidence in Vulnerable U.S. Counties

In the first year of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, the United States struggled to reach the most vulnerable communities, with Black, brown, indigenous, and immigrant communities less likely to get a vaccine but more likely to get seriously ill and die of Covid-19.

Community-based organizations, who have served on the frontlines throughout the pandemic, have made significant progress in removing barriers and increasing access to Covid-19 vaccinations in communities of color. Yet, capacity at these organizations to rapidly address questions and concerns facing the community remain a significant issue, especially as mis/disinformation targeting communities of color sow doubts and fears about the vaccines.

With anti-vaccine sentiment increasing, it is more important than ever to deliver impactful and locally relevant vaccine messaging to communities to address their genuine questions and concerns. Through our Equity-First Vaccination Initiative, we support over 100 community-based organizations in Oakland, Houston, Chicago, Newark, and Baltimore to demonstrate-and-scale hyper-local, community-led programs to improve vaccine access and accurate information. The work is done in partnership with Public Good Projects (PGP), First Draft News, and Pink Cornrows, and is rigorously evaluated by Brown University School of Public Health, Mathematica, and RAND Corporation.

Public Good Projects, First Draft News, and Brown University School of Public Health support the EVI community by providing culturally and locally relevant messages as well as rapid and accurate fact checks to counter inaccurate information circulating within their communities. Each week, the team shares share media and messages that respond to real-time misinformation and gaps in information. This support is delivered through newsletters, which include explanations, fact checking, and talking points pertaining to locally circulating Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation, as well as coordinating calls and Office Hours to troubleshoot on specific concerns facing community members. Resources are provided in English and Spanish, require no attribution, and are stored in a resource center. Link:

EVI Resource Center

The team uses multiple methods to identify, track, and respond to misinformation, disinformation, and gaps in information. This case study highlights how we have leveraged Google’s publicly available Vaccine Search Insights tool to inform communications support.


Data-Driven Communications Support

Public health analysts and journalists on the team use multiple systems to analyze media data regarding Covid-19 and vaccines. Since 2019, they have collected and analyzed over 70 million public conversations related to vaccines and misinformation. Data collected consist of publicly available messages transmitted across multiple media channels, including social and digital media, online media such as news sites and blogs, print media such as magazines and newspapers, broadcast television, and online video. Data allow analysts to form a picture of the knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of communities in relation to vaccination, in addition to exposing misinformation and knowledge gaps. This information informs the communications support provided to CBOs. PGP has access to an extraordinarily large volume of public media data, however as these data are examined at smaller and smaller geographic areas, they become less reliable. Much of the publicly available media data are not geotagged or linked to any particular location. This limitation is widely recognized within the fields of media monitoring and disease surveillance. Google’s Covid-19 Vaccine Search Insights provides a heretofore unavailable dataset that has potential to significantly improve public health analyst’s investigations into local misinformation and information gaps.

  • graphic for steps about Google's Covid-19 vaccine search insights.

Vaccine Search Insights provide aggregated and anonymized data to show Covid-19 vaccine Google searches at the statewide, city, and zip code level. Data show both the relative interest of vaccine searches, as well as the “top” and “rising” searches. Top searches show the 20 most frequently searched queries by volume, while rising searches present queries that show at least a 50% increase over the previous week. Data are further coded and categorized by Google into queries about vaccine intent (defined as searches related to eligibility, availability, and accessibility), and vaccine safety/side effects.

Prior to providing weekly communications guidance, the team reviews both the top and rising Google searches within each of the EVI program cities. They examine these searches at both the city and zip code level. The tool’s comparative feature allows us to quickly compare and identify zip codes with lower relative levels of vaccine intent, and higher levels of queries around safety and side effects. Analyzing the content of the searches also allows the team to create content that directly addresses specific concerns in each city. Results are then triangulated from Google’s tool with data collected through more traditional media monitoring systems as well as feedback from community-based organizations on what they are hearing in the community that week.

Carrying Insights Forward
to Improve Immunization Programs

Health communications campaigns should be as localized as possible, and can make use of publicly available tools to create real-time data-informed messaging and strategies. This is perhaps particularly true for communities who have a good reason to be wary of healthcare and public health systems due to historic and/or contemporary lived experiences.

Our Equity-First Vaccination Initiative has demonstrated that a collective impact approach works in addressing vaccine confidence and demand. In the first three months of the initiative, CBOs have reached over 2 million people in their communities with accurate, timely, understandable information about where, when, and how to get vaccinated.

Google’s Vaccine Search Insights can be used to improve a variety of immunization programs and understand potential impact. For example, data can be compared with the various publicly available Covid-19 vaccine trackers to identify areas where people may be more open to vaccination. Areas with a lower vaccination rate, high intent searches, and low side effect searches may be places where people are more receptive to vaccines, where easier gains could be made.

While our efforts have focused on using Google’s Covid-19 Vaccine Search Insights for content creation, they can also serve as an evaluation tool. Depending on the goal of the program, impact could be estimated by examining increases in searches related to vaccine intent, or increases in searches related to specific messages/ topics that are highlighted in a program’s content. Users can also compare data from areas that received content with areas that did not receive content, as a way of undertaking an intervention group vs. control group analysis. The historic feature provides data as far back as January 2020, and can also be useful to understand longer term trends in one area, or comparatively across areas. As immunization and public health programs shift from emergency operations to the sustained vigilance required in order to inform and empower their communities, Google’s Vaccine Search Insights appears to be a valuable tool. With health practitioners, community organizers, and other frontline workers stretched thin and standard data collection techniques requiring lengthy lag times between collection and insight, this tool can significantly contribute to the real-time intelligence the majority of experts now agree is necessary.