By: Gen Conlin DNP, RN, NEA-BC, Clinical Services Director on May 3rd, 2021
How Healthcare Leaders Can Create Inclusive Vaccine Rollout Strategies
Last week, the CDC reported that over 40% (142M) of Americans had received at least one dose and 30% (98M) had been fully vaccinated. While this is certainly worth celebrating, particularly as numbers continue to rise, it is worth digging into how these numbers are rising across demographics and in particular, races. For example, of those who reported their race/ethnicity to the CDC*, nearly two-thirds were White (65%), 11% were Hispanic, 8% were Black, 5% were Asian, 1% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and <1% were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. Additionally, 9% reported multiple or “other.”
It is clear based on these statistics, there continues to be a significant opportunity–and need–to strive for equity in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout strategy. Continue reading for key considerations for building an inclusive strategy.
Where do we need to be and how do we achieve an inclusive vaccine strategy?
We are all in the business of providing accessible, quality care for our patients and their families and there is no doubt this past year has challenged us to reimagine access to and delivery of safe and quality care. Healthcare organizations have embraced the constructs of agility and flexibility, shifting priorities within their roadmaps to engage with patients in new and creative ways. What’s more, recognizing the diverse needs of their various communities, many have made a concerted effort to address healthcare inequities. These efforts provide hope, after such an unthinkable year, that we are making strides to ensure equitable access to information about the COVID-19 vaccine and ultimately care more broadly.
The clinical team at Kyruus has been fortunate to work with many of our customers in their journey to developing inclusive vaccine strategies. While we know this planning has been fraught with challenges, incredible learnings and improvements have taken place along the way. To help you plan your vaccine rollout or optimize your existing strategy, we have captured a few of our key learnings below. Here are three considerations to keep in mind:
- Common barriers to accessing or scheduling an appointment
- Consider all of the things that could prevent someone from scheduling their vaccine visits from lack of internet access to complicated websites and booking workflows, as well as what might prevent them from showing up. For example, maybe a person cannot get off of work or find someone to look after their kids or an elderly parent. Perhaps they don't have access to transportation and cannot get to their appointment. How might you address these barriers?
- Fear or hesitancy of getting the vaccine
- Think about the ways in which you are educating your various communities about available vaccines. It is important to appreciate that the perceived “hesitancy to vaccinate” is not the barrier, it is actually the need for accessible information about the vaccine and easy access to receive it. Therefore, consider how people consume this information and make sure you build a comprehensive communication strategy to reach people where they are with the information they need about the vaccine.
- Diversity of your patient populations
- Look at your various channels (e.g., website, call center, etc.) and think about the best way to reach patients and provide them with accessible content about the vaccine; considering health literacy, different languages, hearing impaired, and low vision to name a few. Not considering these factors can lead to a negative experience at the point of vaccination, for example, if you don’t have a readily available interpreter for someone who speaks another language or is deaf. This was something we heard from several customers.
Best practices, lessons learned, and pearls collected on the continued journey
There is much more work to be done on this front, but it’s important to recognize the successes that have been achieved to date. These successes build momentum and offer validation that these efforts are making a difference and can posture the ongoing work necessary to ensure access to equitable care. As we continue to move forward, here are our top takeaways.
It takes a multi-channel approach
While technology has been a huge part of the overall vaccine strategy, healthcare organizations recognized early in the process that providing additional channels was critical, as not all consumers are the same. For example, some have enjoyed booking their vaccine appointments online, while others have found it confusing. By creating a multi-channel approach you can make sure you are reaching all of your patients; the savvy ones, the not so savvy ones, those who speak English, and those that don't. Many of our customers stood up call centers swiftly and additional staff were dispatched to provide information for walk-in inquiries. Outbound calls were made, as well as text messages to help keep patients engaged and updated as to when they would be eligible to receive the vaccine. We’ve heard from many customers that they have deployed staff from different areas (e.g., those with less volume) to help in these efforts as wayfinders/escorts, trained as interpreters, and schedule 2nd appointments during the observation period.
Know that you cannot do it alone
A key part of being successful in achieving an inclusive vaccine strategy is to have partnerships and collaborations within and beyond spaces we would not have previously considered. One customer partnered with a local food bank to assist with distributing communications and providing transportation to vaccine appointments. We’ve also seen healthcare organizations partner within communities to set up vaccine locations in malls and vacant stores. Further community outreach efforts have been made with mobile units and sites stood up within underserved neighborhoods, as well as VNAs and ambulance services administering vaccines to homebound folks. Creative solutions like this, while seemingly not quantifiable, have fostered levels of community engagement that likely may not have been explored in other times - and the dividends are beyond measure.
Acknowledge, respect and address concerns
For example, providing context to the impression that some vaccines are inferior and that those “inferior” vaccines are being administered to underserved communities, when actually the intent is to provide ease of the experience, receiving one shot instead of two, is powerful messaging. Our healthcare organizations also need to be the “go to” resource for providing accurate vaccine information, increasing access to that information, as well as dispelling any myths associated with that information - this is paramount to establishing trust. It is also their obligation to the patients and communities they serve. This will ensure patients are feeling heard and in the end, help organizations build lasting relationships.
There are so many more examples to share and to learn from and we gain efficiencies each day. We have seen extraordinary agility, flexibility, and creativity demonstrated by our customers, leveraging existing technology and pushing the boundaries of what systems can do. One customer said it best during a recent strategy meeting, “this endeavor is truly about saving lives.” It has been our privilege to work with our customers and communities to provide solutions as they work to provide inclusive COVID-19 vaccine programs and serve their communities.
* As of April 26th, the CDC reported that race/ethnicity was known for just over half (55%) ) of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine.