The New Year brings hope and promises that an end to the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight. With two vaccines authorized by the FDA for emergency use, and close to 3 million healthcare workers already vaccinated, there is hope that this virus will be eradicated and life will begin to return to normal by year’s end.
However, for the frontline healthcare workers still treating escalating case volumes, the physical and emotional toll is devastating. With another surge forecasted for early 2021, having the additional burden of answering questions about the vaccine, distribution prioritization, second dose compliance, potential side effects, and consideration of allergic reaction risk is unmanageable.
While the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine is undeniably good news, timely and effective vaccine communication calls for swift action on the part of hospital administrators and clinicians as they navigate a fragmented and concerning response by government agencies to ensure its successful deployment and avoid placing further stress on already overburdened and exhausted healthcare workers.
Currently, many hospitals report being overwhelmed with acutely ill patients and not having complete information on vaccine shipment dates for the general population, workflows to communicate to community members en masse, and ultimately, how they are going to administer a vaccination program of this magnitude.
Here are three ways providers can successfully navigate the COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
1. Prepare for an influx of call volume, questions, and concerns
Education is essential, especially as vaccination deployment expands. Providers need to create awareness of their vaccine policies and procedures and prepare patients with information before they get vaccinated. This includes sharing information on the necessity of two doses with prescribed spacing of each (21 days apart for Pfizer’s vaccine, 28 days for Moderna’s), understanding potential side effects, and continuing to emphasize the importance of physical distancing, mask wearing, etc., even after vaccines are administered.
Hospitals are creating a dedicated section on their websites that is the “source of truth” for all questions about vaccine availability, which they are updating regularly as the situation evolves. CDC is posting a wealth of information that providers can access to help assure an anxious public. Steering patients to the hospital portal with links to CDC guidance is essential.
2. Ensure first and second dose appointments are scheduled and kept
Most hospitals will offer vaccination scheduling directly through their portals, but there are already concerns about compliance with second dose vaccination — especially if the recipient experienced side effects with the first dose.
Studies indicate that based on other vaccines requiring two doses, it’s possible that as many as 50% of people could miss their second dose. While vaccine efficacy is estimated to be around 95%, providers must impress upon their patients that both doses are required to confer full immunity.
CDC recommends scheduling the second vaccine dose at the time of the first dose and states in their COVID-19 Vaccination Interim Playbook that “second-dose reminders for vaccine recipients will be critical to ensure compliance with vaccine dosing intervals and achieve optimal vaccine effectiveness…Redundant methods and systems should be used to remind vaccine recipients about their need for second doses.”
Already, reports of side effects being more severe with the second dose are emerging and, anecdotally, some first dose recipients mistakenly think they are protected “enough” with one dose.
3. Have a plan in place to monitor patient well-being post-vaccination
Just as we learned from the early adopters of patient outreach at the start of the pandemic, the most carefully laid plans must change as the virus evolves. Automating processes, where possible, is essential for any organization needing to rapidly pivot strategies for vaccination distribution. Longitudinal monitoring of symptoms can continue post-visit and beyond, and can be used to track patients’ overall experience to gauge the level of program effectiveness and recipient well-being. Data reporting will be essential during this phase to analyze the program in aggregate and make any necessary improvements going forward.
As of this writing, over 17 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the United States, with 4.8 million first doses received by healthcare workers. While these numbers are growing on a daily basis, it’s still nowhere near the 20 million vaccinations that were supposed to have been administered by the end of December 2020. Clearly, the problem is not one of supply but of logistics and efficient distribution.
It won’t be long until vaccinations begin for the general population en masse, which means now is the time for hospitals and health systems to be improving and expediting their vaccination deployment strategy so they can avoid the missteps that have characterized the rollout thus far.
About Lisa Romano, MSN, RN
As CipherHealth’s Chief Nursing Officer, Lisa Romano, MSN, RN brings more than 25 years of experience in clinical practice, healthcare IT strategy, and healthcare operations to her current role. Prior to previous CNO roles, Lisa spent 19 years as a nurse and hospital administrator at Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network in Allentown, PA, where she was responsible for all patient flow and transfer center operations as well as numerous quality and patient satisfaction initiatives. Lisa is passionate about improving the health of patients across the healthcare continuum.