Many of us consult Google Maps when planning a road trip, and the application is always useful for locating a nearby pizza delivery place. Apparently, its utility doesn’t end there. With flu season hitting its seasonal stride and concerns about the H1N1 virus still running rampant, the folks at Google have updated their mapping app accordingly.
The new feature, accessible at google.com/flushot, can locate sources for regular flu shots and the H1N1 vaccine as well. In place of the traditional push pin graphics that mark potential destinations on Google Maps, the flu shot tracker substitutes little red and blue syringes. Blue indicates a source for H1N1 shots and red designates seasonal shots.
Google worked in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. health department when putting the project together, according to a report by Los Angeles Times technology writer W.J. Hennigan. In a statement, Google warned that many of the locations listed by the tracker could be low on vaccinations or even out of stock. It’s best to call ahead in any case.
When I typed in my area code to see where flu shots might be available, five of the six pharmacies in the vicinity were out of stock. It seems that the nearest source for H1N1 vaccine is 26 miles away from my home. Still, that’s more a reflection of the scarcity of the vaccine in Washington State than anything else. Using Google Maps saved me the time and frustration associated with scanning the yellow pages for pharmacies and calling them all in succession.
The appearance of a Google flu tracker serves as a reminder that the Internet is good for more than just entertainment and business purposes. We’re seeing that the Web can also be an ideal vehicle for disseminating information relevant to public health. While it’s possible to nitpick about the reliability of the technology, one must admit that Google’s heart is in the right place in this instance.