After months of learning more and more about COVID-19 — how to test for it, prevent it, and treat it — the highly-anticipated chance to vaccinate against it has arrived. Although off to a somewhat rocky start, healthcare experts are reflecting on the promise of what the vaccines offer.
The vaccination rollout unfortunately fell during an especially challenging time during the pandemic — largely in part due to holiday travel and staff shortages. In December 2020, alone, more than 77,000 people died, and 6.4 million contracted the virus, setting a new monthly record high.
Healthcare leaders are facing a truly complex, unfamiliar scenario — trying to meet the need for incoming patients, provide high-quality care to current patients, while also mapping out a vaccination plan that overcomes new challenges and makes up for lost time. Below are just a few of the major considerations leaders are facing.
COVID-19 Vaccine Challenges
The two current vaccines in play (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) must be stored at subzero temperatures, colder than any vaccine currently used in the U.S. facilities charged with administering them. These facilities are tasked with not only properly storing the vaccines, but also ensuring they’re used within the appropriate timeframe once thawed or refrigerated at a normal temperature.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines also require two doses, at 21 and 28 days apart, respectively. The second dose is necessary to achieve Pfizer’s 95% efficacy (beginning at least seven days later) and Moderna’s 94.1% efficacy (beginning two weeks later) achieved in clinical trials. Administering the second dose requires another, and critical layer of complexity, putting trust in the individuals who received the first dose to follow up for the second dose within the three- to four-week window, and guaranteeing that it is available for those who do return to receive it.
Although the public’s willingness to receive a COVID-19 vaccination has increased, a recent poll by Gallup shows only 63% of Americans are agreeable to receiving the vaccine. Misinformation and mistrust has been spread on social media, raising concerns and suspicions over the speed at which the vaccines were developed. Even prior to the pandemic, anti-vaxxers existed who are believed unlikely to alter their stance in the current climate.
Lack of Consistency
The federal government has allowed states to create their own model to roll out the vaccines which has led to different approaches. While some states prioritize frontline and essential workers, others are first vaccinating citizens based solely on their age. With varying methodologies comes confusion — in the form of miscommunication or a lack of communication altogether, leaving citizens across the U.S. frustrated and uncertain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC) has noted that it is not leading a national campaign on COVID-19 vaccination, but will continue to serve as a partner in the Vaccinate with Confidence strategic framework which aims to strengthen vaccine confidence and prevent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S.
One of the three priorities are to stop myths by working with local partners and trusted messengers to improve confidence in vaccines among at-risk groups; establish partnerships to contain the spread of misinformation; and reach critical stakeholders to provide clear information about vaccination and the critical role it plays in protecting the public.
The CDC has developed a COVID-19 Vaccination Communication Toolkit with ready-made materials to inform healthcare teams, other staff, and patients on the vaccines. For long-term care facilities, the CDC has developed a Preparing for COVID-19 Vaccination at Your Facility toolkit, aimed at helping administrators and clinical leadership with information to help build vaccine confidence among healthcare personnel and residents.
A vaccine is on the way, but it will be months before shots are available to everyone who needs one. The CDC advises people to continue to wear a mask, wash hands often, and stay six feet or more away from others, even after receiving two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Actions for Leaders During COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout
Although the development of the available vaccines is an answer most have been hoping for, the deployment has been messy and will most likely continue to be for the coming months. Even with the FDA-approved vaccines, many are skeptical, and those who are not cannot easily access the vaccine, much less information on when or how they will be able to receive it.
It could take most of 2021 to vaccinate most Americans and stamp out the pandemic. Healthcare leaders can consider the following actions while navigating ongoing COVID-19 challenges and vaccination plans:
- Continue encouraging staff and patients to wear masks and follow hand hygiene protocols.
- Develop an employee survey to gauge willingness to receive the vaccine.
- Administer the vaccine to staff with upcoming days off in case they experience side effects.
- Create a safe space for staff to ask questions and share their concerns related to administering or receiving the vaccine.
- Provide ongoing clear, transparent, and timely updates and communication related to vaccine-related information (supply, distribution, management, etc.).
- Network with other local leaders to share vaccination rollout best practices, concerns, or lessons learned.
- Share news releases or other pertinent information from healthcare organizations on their support of or insight on the vaccine.
- Work closely with both human resources and legal representatives if considering mandatory policies for vaccination.
- Understand the impacts that moral injury can have on front-line workers and provide support.
- Recognize healthcare workers for their ongoing commitment and sacrifice throughout the pandemic.
Editor’s note: Ultimately, statements above are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and do not constitute medical or other professional advice. Organizations will need to follow state and federal authorities’ guidance.