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Enlist AI to Provide Vaccinations for All

By Susan Gonzales and Zachary Solomon

The vaccine rollout, to date, has been anything but orderly. Each state sets its own parameters for eligibility and has to contend with limited supplies or limited storage. Vaccines are lost, go bad, or are administered to people in the wrong order — say, your healthy niece got one before your elderly father.

We have also learned that vaccinations are being disproportionately administered, bypassing communities of color that are made up of a greater than average amount of essential workers.

Indeed, white women over the age of 50 have accounted for the majority of the first Covid-19 vaccinations. Considering that the people with the highest risk of infection are Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans, this statistic is troubling. And these communities often lack the Internet access that others have, making it difficult to book vaccine appointments and research eligibility.

The disparities are significant. African Americans are nearly three times as likely to die of Covid-19 as white Americans. And given how much information about Covid-19 is out there, very little of it is available in Spanish.

There are ways to make vaccine administration more equitable. For instance, artificial intelligence is being used to combat Covid-19. Since the onset of the pandemic, AI has helped track the spread of the virus as well as assist in vaccine research. Now that vaccines are becoming more widespread, AI is used to manage the vaccine supply chains and to analyze the vast quantities of data required to monitor vaccination progress.

And that’s only a start. If used properly, artificial intelligence can continue to make up for inadequacies in vaccination programs.

One concrete way that AI can help is through the use of targeted messaging. An algorithm could be written that would send messages to those eligible for a vaccine. These automatically generated messages would highlight the personal benefits of vaccination, counter misconceptions about the risks of vaccination, and supply information about when and how to get vaccinated. An approach like this would be an equitable response to the reality that so many communities of color use their mobile devices exclusively for Internet access.

Above all, it is important that any AI enlisted to help in the fight against Covid-19 be scrupulously assessed by experts trained in AI bias and AI ethics. AI should be a friend in times like these, not a foe.

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