Facebook partners with Boston Children's Hospital to connect users to COVID-19 vaccines

Mark Zuckerberg said effort would help bring 50M people 'step closer' to getting vaccine

Facebook partnered with Boston Children's Hospital to roll out a new tool to connect individuals to information about COVID-19 vaccines as part of a global campaign to "make it easier" to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week said the company's effort would help bring 50 million people "a step closer" to receiving a vaccine.

FACEBOOK EXPANDS PUSH TO COMBAT COVID-19 MISINFORMATION

"We've already connected over 2 billion people to authoritative COVID-19 information. Now that many countries are moving towards vaccinations for all adults, we're working on tools to make it easier for everyone to get vaccinated as well," Zuckerberg said.

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Facebook has partnered with Boston Children's Hospital to offer a tool on Facebook in the U.S. to identify places nearby to get the vaccine. The locations in the tool were provided by VaccineFinder and include hours of operation, contact information and links to make an appointment.

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John Brownstein, the chief innovation officer for Boston Children's Hospital,  said it is "thrilled to be joining forces with Facebook to build tools that aim to support consumers in their search for COVID-19 vaccines."

"Improving vaccine access and equity across the country will be a critical step in achieving herd immunity and bringing this pandemic to a close," Brownstein said.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., speaks during the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. (George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Zuckerberg said the feature would appear in a user's News Feed as part of the platform's COVID Information Center.

The tool will be supported in 71 different languages. Facebook says it plans to expand the tool to other countries as vaccines are available more widely.

"We've already seen people use Facebook to find vaccination appointments, so this should enable millions more people to do the same," Zuckerberg said.

The COVID Information Center is also being extended to Instagram, where it will be prominently featured. Instagram will now also feature new stickers on Instagram Stories so users can "inspire others to get vaccinated when it becomes available to them."

Meanwhile, Facebook is working with health authorities and governments to expand WhatsApp chatbots to help people register for vaccines. According to Facebook, more than 3 billion messages related to coronavirus have already been sent by governments, nonprofits and international organizations to citizens through the WhatsApp chatbot system.

Last week, Buenos Aires, Argentina, announced that WhatsApp will be the official channel to send notifications to citizens when it’s their turn to receive the vaccine; in Brazil, a WhatsApp helpline is being used as an information and support channel for residents in Serrana, where health authorities are testing the first mass vaccinations project in the country; and in Indonesia, the Ministry of Health started Phase II of its WhatsApp vaccine registration help line, expanding vaccine registration from frontline workers to senior citizens.

Facebook's new COVID-19 vaccine effort also applies labels to posts about vaccines to share additional information from the World Health Organization and will make "real-time aggregate trends" in COVID-19 vaccinations, intent to get vaccinated, and reasons for hesitancy available to public officials to "inform equitable vaccine rollout."

TWITTER TO EXPAND RULES TO COMBAT MISINFORMATION SURROUNDING COVID-19 VACCINES

Since the beginning of the pandemic last year, Facebook has partnered with ministries of health and health-focused organizations in more than 170 countries by providing free ads and enabling partners to share their own public health guidance on COVID-19 and information about the vaccine.

Facebook is now also supporting the United Nations' "Only Together" campaign, which calls for fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines around the world.

Facebook said new "in-feed informational messages" will launch in the coming days to promote content posted by health organizations that are participating in the UN's campaign.

The new efforts come after Facebook last month launched a campaign to combat misinformation surrounding COVID-19 vaccines.

At the time, Facebook said it gave $120 million in ad credits to help health ministries, NGOs and United Nations agencies to reach “billions of people around the world” with COVID-19 vaccine and preventative health information.

Facebook also said it has “partnered with governments in more than 120 countries, as well as multilateral organizations like the World Health Organization and UNICEF, to deliver timely information about COVID-19, including through helplines on WhatsApp.”

As part of the push, Facebook announced it had removed more than 12 million pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram containing misinformation that could lead to imminent physical harm.