Alan Worden ’87 is harnessing data analytics to develop a national distribution strategy for COVID-19 vaccines, to ensure the country’s most vulnerable have access as soon as it’s approved. With his team at Community Data Platforms (CDP), Worden has devised an interdisciplinary approach to building a product that will enable local health departments not only to allocate the vaccines efficiently to those who need it but to instill confidence in the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness.
Using available, anonymized smartphone data, CDP’s product is built around three goals: knowing who is in the community; knowing how the community moves; and knowing what the community is saying. With this data in a central, easy-to-use interface, Worden says local health departments will be positioned to place vaccine sites in optimal locations and target information campaigns toward frontline workers, communities of color and others disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
The sheer scale of the data, however, means the analysis becomes “very granular very fast, and health departments don’t have evidence-based systems to ensure the vaccines will be distributed equitably and efficiently. We’re ensuring our tools to do that,” he says.
“Bill Gates has been quoted widely over the past few months saying that vaccine distribution will be an order of magnitude more complex than developing the vaccines. His fear is that it will end up going to the rich and that the vulnerable, the people working on front lines, will get it last — and that’s totally wrong,” Worden says. “What I care about is whether grocery store workers, teachers and nurses can get vaccinated. The data available through smart phones can be invaluable in describing who is actually here in the community, so we look at the equitable distribution of vaccines as a challenge made for data science.”
In addition to tailoring solutions based on demographics and location, CDP’s product will help gauge community sentiment through social media. And by “using community survey panels, we can make sure responses are reflective of the whole community,” Worden explains.
While Community Data Platforms works on a range of issues affecting businesses and local municipalities, from economic development to climate change, the coronavirus response effort has taken center stage because, as Worden says, “This is not optional. We have to get 330 million people vaccinated — twice with the vaccine and the booster. This is as complicated as anything this country has ever done and it’ll be left to local health departments. We want to give them the tools to make it happen.”
Approaching the beta phase, the product is on track for a launch in early 2021, when scientists predict the first vaccines will be approved for the public.
As a student at HWS, Worden was the founder of the Entrepreneur Club and a member of Kappa Alpha. He created his own interdisciplinary major — integrating architectural studies with art history, furniture design and off-campus study in Paris and at Columbia University in New York — which led to a career in real estate development, sales and hospitality.
While not a data scientist himself, Worden says his approach to business, whether CDP or real estate, can be tied to his time at HWS and the “notion of combining different disciplines.” It was this idea that led him from a focus on architecture to the broader built environment to the ways people and communities use those spaces and, ultimately, to the entrepreneurial opportunities that exist in that nexus.
His work at CDP is based on his work at Nantucket Data Platform, a prototype community data platform he developed for ReMain Nantucket, a subsidiary of the nonprofit of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and philanthropist Wendy Schmidt. A longtime Senior Advisor to ReMain, Worden is also an experienced sailor who, in 2001, sailed a 44-foot sloop halfway around the world double-handed.