Next time you’re searching for places to get a COVID-19 vaccination shot, don’t forget to check out Facebook. The social network on Monday announced a partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital to provide US residents with information about vaccine availability in their neighborhoods. The organizations are working to add the ability for users to make an appointment directly from the Facebook app.
John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, said that Facebook’s huge audience — over 220 million in the US and two billion worldwide — makes for an ideal way to spread the word. “That’s where people are,” Brownstein said. “We want to make sure we’re arming that platform with the best possible data on where vaccines are.”
But the listings at Facebook’s COVID-19 Information Center are less comprehensive than at other websites, including the State of Massachusetts’ Vaxfinder site. For instance, the Facebook listings don’t include the state-run mass vaccination sites at places like Fenway Park. The Facebook listings mainly feature pharmacies at CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart stores. However, the new Facebook service does include a link to the Massachusetts COVID-19 information page, where users can run a more thorough search. And Brownstein said more sites will be added over time, in Massachusetts and nationwide. At present, the Facebook page also offers vaccination site information for Alaska, Tennessee, Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma, Utah, and New York State outside of New York City.
The Facebook site uses data from Boston Children’s Hospital’s VaccineFinder, which was created in 2009 to help people get access to vaccines against the H1N1 virus, which infected about 60 million Americans and killed about 12,000. Since then, VaccineFinder has provided information on vaccinations for influenza, measles, and other diseases.
Facebook first began working with Boston Children’s Hospital in 2019 to develop a preventive health information center inside the social network. But as COVID-19 surged, the VaccineFinder site pivoted to focus entirely on the new disease.
Brownstein said that his organization and Facebook plan to add more locations to the directory, as well as a way for users to sign up directly for vaccine shots. “You don’t want to just know if there’s vaccine,” Brownstein said. “You want to know if you can get an appointment.”