Unsure whether to get a COVID-19 jab? Just ask Vira!
With COVID-19 vaccine hesitance an increasing concern in the US, researchers at Johns Hopkins have developed a chatbot – called Vira – that aims to explode myths about vaccination.
Worried that COVID-19 vaccines have serious side effects that are being covered up, or vaccines are being used to track the population? Or just uncertain whether you should be vaccinated as en expectant mother, or if you can choose which vaccine you receive?
Vira – short for short for Vaccine Information Resource Assistant – is available to answer those questions and provide credible information that can support behaviour changes, according to its developers, from the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The chatbot has been launched as the US government missed its target of administering at least one dose of COVID-19 to 70% of adults in the country by the 4 July holiday.
The number of vaccinations being delivered every day in the US has fallen from a peak of 3.4 million in April, and is now running at around 600,000 per day. Some areas of the country have vaccination rates of 70%-80%, but in others – such as Mississippi and Alabama – take-up is as low as 30%.
The chatbot – available at VaxChat.org via mobile or desktop – is particularly aimed at young people, as vaccination is lagging in young adults across the US, said Johns Hopkins. It is designed to "support and meet young people where they are with simple answers to common COVID-19 vaccine questions."
Vira's knowledge base comes from Johns Hopkins vaccine scientists and was developed with support from its COVID-19 Training Initiative, with funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The system was developed using IBM software and is adaptive, learning by listening to questions and feedback and can be used to help scientists respond to emerging questions about COVID-19 jabs
"Vira can help health workers or anyone who seeks help fielding questions from family and friends about the COVID-19 vaccines," said its developers, who note that it contains over 150 distinct concerns which were expressed by real world users during development and testing.
"We envision developing similar chatbots to help individuals make more informed decisions about various topics such as quitting smoking, donating blood, voting and more," they add.