- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

COVID-19: Using Metrics to Boost Vaccination Rollouts

| Spring 2021

In late January, at the peak of America’s COVID-19 outbreak, and nearly two months after the first vaccine was approved, Graham Allison and research assistant Hugo Yen found that hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses were being left unused on shelves due to sluggish rollouts by state governments. Many of the 3,000 daily deaths at the time could have been prevented had local officials done everything they could to get doses into the arms of the most vulnerable. 

But neither state officials nor local representatives responsible for oversight took meaningful actions despite recognizing the problem. The problem? A lack of accountability. As Allison says, “Performance measures encourage accountability. Accountability encourages improved performance.” By simplifying the array of vaccination statistics provided by the CDC into clear metrics, Allison and Yen developed a COVID-19 Vaccine Report Card to help citizens easily understand their states’ performance in the vaccine rollout and better hold their state governments accountable.

"The February 8, 2021 Massachusetts vaccination report card."

When Bay Staters heard that Massachusetts, which leads the nation in biotech research & world-class hospitals, was earning an “F” for its vaccination campaign, the response was immediate. The report card sparked increased scrutiny from major media outlets and state representatives on the governor’s team, which took quick actions to accelerate the rollout. The Belfer Center later partnered with The Boston Globe to develop a weekly report card to track the state’s progress. As Globe Editorial Page Editor Bina Venkatarman wrote, “I have no doubt [this collaboration] has saved lives.

Due to interest from other states, Allison and Yen also published a Citizen’s Guide to help residents in all 50 states develop report cards for their own states, and advised governors and their teams in states like Rhode Island and West Virginia on vaccine rollouts. 

“The best news is that the combination of factors, of which I think it’s fair to say this was one, has helped motivate a much more determined effort—and as a result many more doses in arms, which means lives saved,” said Allison. In the final report card, Massachusetts moved from an F to an overall B, leading the nation in multiple vaccination metrics. 

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

"COVID-19: Using Metrics to Drive Better Vaccination Rollouts." Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. (Spring 2021)