How MUM improved Google Searches for vaccine information

Soda, pop; sweater, jumper; soccer, football. So many things go by different names. Sometimes it’s a function of language, but sometimes it’s a matter of cultural trends or nuance, or simply where you are in the world. 

One very relevant example is COVID-19. As people everywhere searched for information, we had to learn to identify all the different phrases people used to refer to the novel coronavirus to make sure we surfaced high quality and timely information from trusted health authorities like the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A year later, we’re encountering a similar challenge with vaccine names, only this time, we have a new tool to help: Multitask Unified Model (MUM).  

Understanding searches for vaccine information 

AstraZeneca, CoronaVac, Moderna, Pfizer, Sputnik and other broadly distributed vaccines all have many different names all over the world — over 800, based on our analysis. People searching for information about the vaccines may look for “Coronavaccin Pfizer,” “mRNA-1273,” “CoVaccine” — the list goes on. 

Our ability to correctly identify all these names is critical to bringing people the latest trustworthy information about the vaccine. But identifying the different ways people refer to the vaccines all over the world is hugely time-intensive, taking hundreds of human hours. 

With MUM, we were able to identify over 800 variations of vaccine names in more than 50 languages in a matter of seconds. After validating MUM’s findings, we applied them to Google Search so that people could find timely, high-quality information about COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.