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A vaccine is coming, but the data is still viral [BetaKit]

MPP-DS Executive Director Vass Bednar joins BetaKits Black Swan podcast hosts Douglas Soltys and Rob Kenedi and co-panelist Joella Almeida for a conversation about the privacy implications of online flu shot registrations.

Dec 04, 2020

This article was originally posted on the BetaKit website. 

The big national news last week was the federal government appointing a general to oversee the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The details of that rollout are a little scarce, but there are a few things we know, at the time of publishing:

  • There’s hope for vaccine approvals by Christmas, with prioritized groups getting vaccinated between January and March.
  • There’s also a hope that the ‘majority of Canadians’ will be vaccinated by September.
  • While the feds are procuring the drug, it’s up to the provinces and territories to get them to Canadians.

That means looking at the provincial rollout of this year’s flu shot might be instructive as to how things might turn out with the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It”s making the price of accessing public health your online data.”

In Ontario, the flu shot rollout has been… not good, with many unable to book and get their shot (Premier Ford has promised things will be different with COVID. We’ll see). But there are other items particular to the flu rollout that people might really want to know prior to the COVID vaccine.

For example, did you know that you can get 500 PC Optimum points for getting your flu shot at Shoppers Drug Mart? Did you also know that pharmacies may use the information you share to register for that shot to serve you targeted ads?

That’s coming from Vass Bednar, a public policy entrepreneur and author of the Regs to Riches newsletter, where she recently published an article about her flu shot experience and the policy implications she discovered underneath. One of our guests this week, Bednar said that “the price of accessing public health is your online data.”

Isn’t Shoppers owned by Loblaw, one of the largest retailers and private sector employers in Canada? Did they just partner with Toronto startup League on their new PC Health app? Hmm.

But it’s not just a privacy issue when tech gets involved. There’s also the capacity for tech to facilitate or restrict access (think Ticketmaster bots or Xbox pre-orders) to the vaccine. And the big question of equitable access. That’s where our second guest, Joella Almeida, co-founder of MedEssist, comes in. In addition to running a company built to connect patients with pharmacists, Almeida is currently working on a white paper which she claims will show how a targeted roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine could save “20,000 lives.”

So, the competing interests of public health, private corporations, and tech, all fighting for trust during a global pandemic. Sounds like a Black Swan podcast.