Plan Your Vaccine

Country/area: United States

Organisation: NBC News Digital

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 11/2/2021

Credit: Anna Brand – Senior Editor, News Projects
Jiachuan Wu – National Interactive Journalist
Robin Muccari – Interactive Designer
Nigel Chiwaya – Senior Data Editor
Joe Murphy – Data Editor
Elliott Ramos – Data Reporter
Ellie Frymire – Head of Development, TWO-N
Pedro Barquinha – Senior Software Engineer
Bentley Maddox – Researcher
Megan Watkins – Researcher
Kanwal Syed – Researcher
JaJuan Morris-Guity – Researcher
Mashiyath Zaman – Researcher
Wen Si – Intern, developer and researcher

Biography: Anna Brand is a senior editor for news projects at NBCNews.com.
Jiachuan Wu is an interactive journalist for NBC news digital.
Robin Muccari was an interactive designer with NBC News Digital.
Nigel Chiwaya is a senior Data Editor with NBC News Digital.
Joe Murphy is a Data Editor with NBC News Digital.
Elliott Ramos is a data reporter with NBC News Digital.

Secondary contact: anna.brand@nbcuni.com

Project description:

Plan Your Vaccine was a personalized, interactive digital app that gave Americans trusted information about planning their Covid-19 vaccination for every state and U.S. territory in one place. A team of editors, developers, researchers and designers gathered firsthand information, from requirements by state to locations where the vaccine was being administered, and an option to sign up to receive alerts as changes to eligibility and more changed. After collecting users’ locations, essential groups and ages, the app provided customized information.

Impact reached:

The page was built in English, Spanish and Mandarin to reach as many readers as possible with real-time information about how to get the vaccine at a time when messages from the government were confusing. At launch, our tool was the only national-scale site of its kind. More than 7 million people got their vaccine information from Plan Your Vaccine, with a reach of 1.6 Billion from broadcast segments. Through social media platforms, we reached 481 million people. More than 120 anchors, correspondents and talent from the larger NBC Universal group shared the tool in more than 10 languages to millions of viewers.

Not only was Plan Your Vaccine prominent across digital platforms, but it could be seen on Sunday Night Football, on the Today Show plaza, Telemundo studios, at the Golden Globes, Indy500 and more. Additionally, we worked with the Comcast NBCUniversal Campus Ambassador Program to partner with college students across 52 campuses to post about the tool on social media. Nearly 60,000 people engaged with these organic posts. Media organizations from Bloomberg and Yahoo to People and AdWeek recognized the site for its maximized reach and quick updates. We received inquiries from Google and the White House about how we were able to organize all of the recent locations for our map portion of the tool and potential partnerships.

The biggest impact, however, was the impact on everyday people who were struggling to get information about the vaccine for themselves, their parents and grandparents. We received emails and messages from people across the country telling us that by using Plan Your Vaccine they were able to find out exactly when they would be eligible, how to get an appointment and more.

Techniques/technologies used:

We used figma to sketch out the initial design and later implemented the design with JavaScript. At the early stage of vaccine distribution, each group’s eligibility was very different and policies varied from state to state. This created many different combinations of eligibility status. In addition to that, we thought first what the reader would want to know most about getting the vaccine. At the time, we were the “reader,” too. We didn’t wait for press releases to come out; we went straight to government officials and websites to maintain daily updates.

We processed the data in a Google sheet, which allowed researchers, editors, translators and developers to collaborate on the same doc. We built a data update pipeline with a combination of Google Sheets and custom-written sheets macros that leveraged JavaScript to easily maintain the information, in three languages (each of which had to be copyedited) during the nearly yearlong data update. We also wrote some customized script to compile the sheet and execute on the production side dynamically.

The vaccine locations were managed with a combination of Google Sheets, custom python scripts to download, parse, and generate custom map tilesets for the vaccination location map. A set of scrapers were written in Python, and another set of scrapers were written in JavaScript. When the partnership with VaccineFinder (later to become Vaccines.gov) was made, additional functionality was written to merge portions of their dataset with ours.

What was the hardest part of this project?

At the start of this project in January 2021, there was virtually no concrete data on a national scale about how to get the vaccine. We wanted to build a place where you could jump from all the information in your state that met your eligibility to another state (let’s say, your moms) without opening new tabs and searching on another state’s website which might have had outdated data. The CDC changed their eligibility guidelines dozens if not hundreds of times; pharmacies and local health centers changed the status of vaccine availability, and ultimately frontline, essential workers and other groups were irrelevant when we moved to age-based eligibility. This meant extreme flexibility and fluidity not just from an editorial standpoint but in building a data structure design that would respond to the continuously updated vaccination distribution plans. Because the tool was available in three languages, that also required a major effort to continuously translate hundreds of rows at a time as information changed.

What can others learn from this project?

From the development side, the editorial content and data structure needed to be considered at the start of the project; and in doing so, we found success in the long run when we needed to adjust how we were presenting the content. This project was ambitious; we were the first news organization out of the gate with a site. That happened because we made the calls, did the data collection and had strong editors move quickly to get accurate information. Working hand-in-hand with developers to build a responsive app was necessary from day 1. These two teams should never work in silos, especially when it comes to complicated projects. The relationships built will carry over to the next big project.

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