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Ottawa maps equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for the homebound

Individuals who cannot or rarely leave their homes are at a disadvantage when it comes to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Equitable distribution strategies must be implemented to overcome this barrier. How can geographic information systems (GIS) help?

Delivering COVID-19 vaccines to the homebound is a complex operation that involves detailed coordination of people, transportation and supplies. Due to the limited amount of time that vials can be out of freezers and with some homebound recipients living in rural and remote areas, it is critical to map out precise and optimal delivery routes. We sat down with Sarah MacLaurin and Randal Rodger from the Geospatial, Analytics, Technology and Solutions (GATS) group at the City of Ottawa to talk about how they supported Ottawa Public Health’s (OPH) homebound vaccine delivery program.

To ensure access to the vaccines for the homebound in an organized and efficient way, OPH and the GATS group collaborated to create a vaccine delivery program using Esri’s ArcGIS technology. OPH partnered with six community health centres to establish the list of homebound clients. They reached out to the City of Ottawa because they needed resources to plan the best routes and schedules with constraints in mind. The City was already familiar with Esri’s mapping and spatial analysis software through the disaster response program and a hybrid solution in waste management, so ArcGIS was the solution that came to mind. 

It took just two weeks, from initial requirement to deployment, to launch the program.

This image shows the application used by the OPH homebound team

Using ArcGIS Online, the OPH homebound team and community health centre partners were able to increase efficiencies with booking and planning routes for homebound clients. By adding each client to the system, booking staff were able to visualize clients who were in close proximity to each other and ensure vaccines were used efficiently given their strict expiry parameters. The route planner in ArcGIS Online helped the team maximize their routes and decrease drive time from one home to the next. Colour coding was used to reflect vaccination status:

These legends show the vaccine status of homebound clients.

“ArcGIS Online has helped Ottawa Public Health in its vaccination campaign planning and operations, including vaccinating home-bound residents. We used features such as map layers to highlight catchment areas for community health centres, hot spots, priority neighborhoods and much more,” said Danielle Vernooy of Ottawa Public Health.

This is an example of how ArcGIS was used to optimize routes between clients.

Since the program started in February, just over 1,500 of homebound clients have been vaccinated. The remainder booked elsewhere or declined the vaccine.   

“It was great to be able to support the community and OPH by sharing our ArcGIS knowledge and expertise. We are proud of the contribution our team made during a challenging time. OPH continues to use the geospatial tools we created for them and we see more partnerships in the future as the same tools get used for other programs,” said Randal Rodger with the City of Ottawa.

Access to health care and services can be impacted by barriers such as social, racial, economic and physical factors. Taking these impediments into consideration can assist in matching care from providers, health centres and preventive services with community needs. Looking at these factors through the lens of location allows us to better understand gaps in accessibility and shows where opportunities to intervene exist.

To learn more about how GIS can inform public health, visit

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This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Brian Mosley is the Health Solutions Lead for Esri Canada’s Public Health Program. Brian addresses public health challenges by encouraging geographic thinking and creating GIS solutions for public health practitioners. He promotes the use of spatial intelligence for public health program evaluation, e-health projects, population assessments and service delivery, including establishing systems for monitoring priorities such as real-time emergency department visits and environmental health threats for the overall health of different populations.

Profile Photo of Brian Mosley