The eagerly anticipated pediatric COVID-19 vaccine has recently received approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that 28 million American children between the ages of five and eleven are now eligible to receive a children’s COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, the FDA and CDC have also recently expanded the use of booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines, making many more individuals eligible to receive a COVID-19 booster shot.
In this blog, we will break down the latest information regarding COVID-19 vaccines, explain what it means for your health system, and provide you with best practices for COVID-19 vaccine operations.
What the Approval of a Children’s COVID-19 Vaccine Means for Health Systems
A children’s COVID-19 vaccine is exciting news for parents who want to ensure their children's safety at school, during extra-curricular activities, and even upcoming holiday gatherings. However, just as we have experienced in previous vaccine rollouts, health systems are likely to witness an influx of questions regarding the children’s COVID-19 vaccine, as well as vaccine hesitancy among parents.
If you haven't already, here are some questions you should be asking yourself regarding your pediatric vaccine operations:
Is our health system or hospital prepared to answer thousands of children's vaccination queries?
Can we schedule thousands of appointments in a matter of days, if needed?
Can our system handle the load without negatively impacting patients with non-vaccine needs?
Additionally, Dr. Sallie Permar, the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine and Pediatrician-in-Chief at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, said recently that she expects to spend more time talking with parents about the new vaccine. This means that with millions of children now eligible to get vaccinated, organizations, pediatric hospitals, and children's clinics will need to prepare to educate parents and answer their questions about the pediatric vaccine.
"Parents want to make the best decision for their children. And they want to make a very careful decision, and they want to consider all the information that's available."
With that said, it's crucial that you effectively communicate with the parents of children who are now eligible for the vaccine. This could be done in numerous ways such as:
a hotline to answer parents' questions about the children’s COVID-19 vaccine
text messages and/or emails to remind parents to schedule an appointment to vaccinate their children
a frequently asked questions page on your website specifically for the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine
a brochure or flyer to parents in the mail debunking misinformation around the pediatric vaccine
What the Approval of Booster Shots Means for Health Systems
The FDA and CDC have also recently expanded the use of COVID-19 booster shots. Similar to the pediatric vaccines, there's likely to be an influx of questions and misinformation regarding booster shots, especially since the CDC recommendations now allow for the mix and match of dosing for COVID-19 booster shots.
Currently, more than 11 million booster doses have been administered in the U.S.
Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Here are the Current COVID-19 Booster Shot Recommendations from the CDC:
For individuals who received a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the following groups are eligible for a booster shot at six
65 years and older
Age 18+ who live in long-term care settings
Age 18+ who have underlying medical conditions
Age 18+ who work or live in high-risk settings
For individuals who received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, the following groups are eligible for a booster shot at least two months or more after their initial series:
18 years or older
This is a significant amount of information not only to educate your patient populations on but also to communicate with them. To avoid confusion among patients, consider utilizing a multi-channel approach so that patients receive the same information in multiple ways from your organization.
As more recommendations regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and boosters become available, your health system must be flexible and able to quickly scale to handle continuous waves of vaccines. Here are some best practices for vaccine operations.
COVID-19 Vaccine Operations Best Practices
Your patient communication plan is just as critical as your operational plan. When you communicate effectively, you can reduce patient confusion and frustration, help your vaccine clinic run smoothly, reduce the number of no-shows and prevent wastage of vaccine, improve compliance with getting the second dose and boosters, and free up your staff to assist other patients.
Best practices for vaccine communications include:
Dedicated hotlines to prevent your main phone system and staff from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 vaccine calls
Vaccine FAQ chat services to answer patient questions and keep them informed
Broadcast messages to announce booster availability—targeting patient groups eligible to schedule their appointments
Make it easy for patients to schedule, confirm, or reschedule vaccine appointments in the channel that drive action. Offer both online self-scheduling and live voice scheduling to book first and second doses as well as booster vaccination appointments.
Best practices for vaccine scheduling include:
Digital self-scheduling to streamline the appointment booking process for patients and staff while freeing up staff to help other patients
Live voice scheduling to provide a channel for patients who prefer the phone or don't have online access
Outsourcing the voice channel to free up your staff and help you handle higher call volumes while you take care of other patients' needs.
Use an automated reminders solution to confirm and remind patients of their upcoming appointments. Strategically send text messages, emails, or voice communications to drive patient action and adherence. Even more, let patients know if they should wait in their car until their vaccine appointment or check-in on their mobile device.
Best practices for vaccine appointment reminders include:
Waitlist programs to reduce gaps in your schedule and vaccine wastage
Appointment and dose reminders for staff and patients via text, email, and outbound IVR
Arrival instructions to share protocols
Have a plan for following up with recently vaccinated patients to find out how they're responding to the vaccine and booster as well as to monitor patient well-being. Be prepared with clinically-savvy professionals who can offer help if patients are experiencing any adverse symptoms or reactions—and escalate their calls if care is needed.
Best practices for vaccine follow-up include:
Post-vaccine and booster follow-up for staff and patients to triage adverse reactions and book follow-up or referral appointments as needed
Dedicated follow-up hotlines to help patients report side effects and receive further instructions.
DATA COLLECTION AND REPORTING
Have a plan for collecting and reporting information about vaccinations your organization has performed. Identify which systems you will be required to update, including the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) developed by the CDC or a state Immunization Information System (IIS).
Best practices for data reporting include:
Tracking required information with new and existing data fields in your patient engagement and electronic health record (EHR) systems
Sharing required data with state and federal reporting systems
Applying some of the best practices mentioned above to your vaccine operations can ensure that your vaccine program runs smoothly and remains flexible. To learn more about how we can help your organization meet its staff and patient communication, scheduling, and engagement needs, visit our COVID-19 Scheduling and Reminders webpage.