Integrating Ethics Into Vaccine Management Software — Lessons From the Field

It’s necessary to build ethics into the vaccine management process since thousands of small decisions are made everyday to create smooth digital and offline experiences.

The rollout of COVID-19 vaccination efforts highlights the importance of ethical use of technology. When it comes to patient and community safety, the concern goes beyond ensuring adequate supply or appropriate scheduling tools. We now have to look at how to enable wider access to technology to schedule vaccination appointments, as well as how to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine to underserved communities. And each jurisdiction, at the federal, state, or local level faces different challenges and needs. As we partner with these communities to develop systems for complex vaccine management, we’ve identified principles to promote the ethical use of COVID-19 vaccine tech solutions, including guidelines around the use of Vaccine Cloud.

1. Establish optimal set-up conditions for vaccine management

Vaccine management technologies should be set up as a distinct system dedicated to sensitive health or personal data, and should be maintained separately from any other existing business systems in order to limit data access. Admins who have access to data for sales, customer service, or pricing don’t need to have access to sensitive vaccine or health information — and vice versa. This is critical for ensuring confidentiality and security, and so users can trust that their data will be protected.

Vaccine management platforms should also allow multiple channels for registrant sign-ups. If sign-ups can only be performed online or via smartphone, and are only available in English, there is a serious risk of marginalizing those without access to technology, those who are less digitally literate, non-English speaking populations, and those who are only able to use lower-tech options. Having call centers ready to take inbound inquiries with scheduling capabilities — and ensuring that solutions are available in multiple languages and support accessibility best practices — are core elements of making vaccination efforts successful.

2. Set meaningful defaults and options for inclusion of all vaccine registrants

Ensure registration questions are inclusive for all vaccine registrants. What’s more, making certain fields optional by default can ensure that certain populations are not marginalized in the process. These steps build trust with your registrants and ensure you get the data needed to administer a vaccination. For example:

  • Instead of asking for age, ask for a birthdate. This allows for more granular and specific calculations of vaccine eligibility.
  • For gender field picklists, create more inclusivity by allowing registrants to select “transgender,” “other,” or “do not wish to disclose” instead of offering only values of “male” and “female.”
  • Use inclusive language. For instance, “residents” instead of “citizens,” since permanent residents and undocumented populations are also eligible for vaccination programs.
  • Not everyone has health insurance, while others may have the same national health benefits depending on the country in which they live. So, making it a required field might exclude those without it, or could lead to collecting more personal health data than needed.
  • Similarly, unhoused and undocumented populations may not have a government-issued ID, so proof of identity should be considered a flexible field in the set-up flow. If a vaccine administrator needs proof of local residence, anything from a driver’s license to a utility bill should suffice.

To determine which preset values and language to use around vaccines (for example, what prioritized occupational groups or vulnerable populations to include in the registration flow to help determine eligibility), we look to public health agencies like the United States Centers for Disease Control, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, or the World Health Organization.

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Aman Kanaujia

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