Facebook is rolling out a handful of new tools on its platforms to help people get vaccinated against Covid-19.
The tech giant, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, announced on Monday that it will use its platforms to help assist users in learning more about Covid-19 vaccines, including where and when they can get vaccinated.
“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,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in prepared remarks posted to the social media platform on Monday.
“First, we’re launching a tool that shows you when and where you can get vaccinated, and gives you a link to make an appointment,” Zuckerberg wrote in the post. “This will be in the Covid Information Center, which we’ll show people right in their News Feed.”
The Covid Information Center will also be on Instagram, where Zuckerberg said the company will “show it to people prominently there too.”
The company, Zuckerberg added, is also “working with health authorities and governments to expand their WhatsApp chatbots to help people register for vaccines.”
How to find Covid-19 vaccines through Facebook
To help people find vaccines, Facebook partnered with Boston Children’s Hospital to launch its locator tool in the United States. The tool connects Facebook users with where to access Covid-19 vaccines in their neighborhood, hours of operation for vaccination sites, contact information and links to make an appointment.
“You should be able to search in your Facebook app — if you type in something like ‘Covid-19’ or ‘Covid-19 vaccine.’ That will bring up the Covid-19 Information Center on Facebook, and within that there’ll be a new tool where you can search to find vaccination sites near you,” Kang-Xing Jin, Facebook’s head of health, told CNN on Sunday.
The vaccine locator tool is similar to a blood donation feature that Facebook launched in 2019 to help users find places to donate blood in their area and be notified when a nearby blood donation center may be in need, Jin said.
“Our partners in the United States saw a 19% increase in first-time blood donors nationwide,” he said. “So our hope is really to help here with the vaccine rollout.”
The locations identified in the new Covid-19 vaccine finder come from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine Finder, a web-based system of vaccination providers. The tool launched only in the US, but Facebook announced that it plans to expand to other countries as vaccines are available more widely, and the tool will be supported in 71 different languages.
“It’s initially on Facebook but we’re hoping to bring it to Instagram soon,” Jin said.
Covid-19 Information Center launches on Instagram
For now, the Covid-19 Information Center itself was brought to Instagram, “which will include a lot of information around common questions about the vaccine,” Jin said. “And that is available live starting today as well.”
The Covid-19 Information Center, a portal that originally launched on the Facebook platform last March, is now accessible to all Instagram users around the world, according to Facebook.
When users click on the Covid-19 Information Center portal, they will see Covid-19 information from their local health ministers and the World Health Organization.
In the coming weeks, social media posts generally about Covid-19 vaccines will be automatically given labels pointing people to the Covid-19 Information Center.
“This is going to be applied to all posts that are generally about Covid-19 vaccines,” Jin said. “The label essentially will offer a link to the Covid-19 Information Center where people then can go to get answers to common questions.”
Facebook also announced on Monday that Instagram has released new “stickers” about the Covid-19 vaccine that users can use in their Instagram Stories. For instance, one sticker says “LET’S GET VACCINATED” and has a heart symbol.
Health authorities turn to WhatsApp
Meanwhile, there are also new developments happening on Facebook’s other platform, WhatsApp. Facebook has offered the messaging app as a way for health authorities and governments to share Covid-19 vaccine information with users.
For instance, the city of Buenos Aires in Argentina announced last week that WhatsApp will be the official channel through which citizens will be notified when it’s their turn to receive the vaccine, according to Facebook.
“WhatsApp is a free service that’s actually often cheaper than SMS or texting — so in some ways it can reduce barriers,” Jin said.
“At the end of the day, governments are using all channels of communication to reach people where they are — both online and offline — with relevant information. And we’re doing our best to support these efforts and choices.”