Even with a streamlined vaccine distribution model, the goal of vaccinating the majority of the American population is held back by widespread vaccine hesitancy (nearly 40% of people). Given the surprising magnitude and dire nature of this issue, VaxChat aims to encourage more people to receive the life-changing vaccine. We recognized that seeing and hearing about the benefits of the vaccine and the rectification of misinformation from those in your community that one trusts, such as healthcare providers, community health educators, religious leaders, friends and family, can dramatically change one’s perspectives.

What it does

VaxChat works by matching vaccine-hesitant people with trusted community members who can talk through their skepticism. This matching system works by identifying key characteristics of the hesitant individual, such as main reasons for hesitancy and geographic location, through a thoughtfully-designed user engagement survey. Once matched, VaxChat users will have the opportunity to speak directly and candidly with VaxChat ambassadors, which include community health educators, religious leaders, friends, family and more. Throughout the conversation, information will be collected to develop a more nuanced understanding of the main reasons for hesitancy and link them to population characteristics. This then allows for more tailored responses and strategies from government officials and the private sector to reduce vaccine hesitancy.

How we built it

We spent the initial stages of the hackathon honing our idea and planning our business model. After we had decided on the features of our platform, we built a UI/UX prototype using InVision Studio emphasizing a simple and smooth user experience. We then designed the architecture of the web-based software, identifying which technologies we could leverage to implement our service. We focused on researching and designing the user-to-ambassador matching algorithm based on the propensity score method, the core logic of our initial prototype.

Challenges we ran into

We considered potential scalability issues that our model would encounter as it grows in popularity. The initial development of our idea took a lot of time and went through several iterations; we knew that the nationwide vaccination initiative was encountering significant resistance, but it wasn’t until after conversations with several mentors that we decided on a “grassroots” approach targeting individuals outside of well-funded and well-established healthcare systems.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We are proud to have built a simple and practical, yet personalized and scalable online service that tackles vaccine hesitancy, one of the biggest roadblocks to efficient vaccine rollout. Since commonly cited reasons for vaccine hesitancy are quite diverse, VaxChat uses the power of our individual social network to match and connect people who may have had similar concerns prior to getting their vaccine. These individualized 1-on-1 conversations facilitated by our platform will encourage those with vaccine hesitancy to get their COVID-19 vaccine and recruit others in their community to do the same. Through our research, we realized that vaccine misinformation can also lead to people’s hesitancy, so our educational resources offered by trained ambassadors are key to ensuring people have accurate information needed to make their decision.

What we learned

Through the development of VaxChat, we learned about the incredibly nuanced factors that underlie vaccine hesitancy and the power of human connection in combating a health crisis. People have many reasons for their vaccine hesitancy—whether that be concerns about side effects or a general mistrust in vaccines overall—and a solution needs to be adaptable and personalized in order to understand and address people’s concerns towards vaccination.

What's next for VaxChat

We would like to take the next steps to deploy the VaxChat platform as the vaccine rollout continues across the country. We hope to initially partner with a local free clinic in the New Haven area to start a test pilot. On the development side, we are also interested in the further integration of AI to generate a dynamic survey to better understand the core reasons for vaccine hesitancy. We believe that the data collected from our product will provide valuable insights for future public health campaigns and messaging.

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