Vaccine Operations: Healthcare’s Biggest Patient Engagement Challenge and Opportunity

May 27, 2021 | Carenet Health

digital health awards winner fall 2021History in the Making

Health systems, pharmacies, government agencies, and others are being overwhelmed with consumers contacting them to find out how and when they can receive the vaccine. With millions of people preparing to get vaccinated, organizations are quickly realizing just how much they have underestimated the impact on their operations of filling new demand at a pace that meets the mandate’s timeline requirements. 

From the website of a well-known health system:

"We are unable to accept phone calls related to the COVID-19 vaccine at this time. Our phone systems are overloaded with requests to schedule vaccine appointments, preventing patients with urgent and acute medical care needs from getting through."

Learn more about Stericycle's online scheduling, broadcast messaging, and patient communications for vaccine operations.

If you haven't already, you should be asking these critical questions:

vaccine scheduling  volume

Is our health system, pharmacy chain, or local government agency prepared to schedule thousands of vaccination appointments in a matter of days?

patient experience vaccine

Can our systems and operations handle the load without negatively impacting patients with non-vaccine needs?


How will we effectively reach out to patients as new groups become eligible to receive the vaccine?

Wanted: 500 Million Vaccine Doses

For COVID-19, the herd-immunity threshold is estimated to be around 70% of the population, which means that roughly 248 million Americans will need to receive the vaccines. At two doses per person, this means delivering approximately 500 million doses of vaccines. 1

248 million Americans x 2 doses



The Top Challenges and Risks of the Biggest Campaign Ever

No health system or organization in the U.S. has faced anything remotely like the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine to hundreds of millions of Americans. The challenges are daunting, to say the least:

vaccine scheduling volume


How will your system manage notifying, scheduling, and administering two rounds of inoculation for every patient who qualifies and wants the vaccine? The volume will be greater than anything your organization has faced before.

vaccine eligibility is a moving target

Moving targets

Who gets the vaccine and when is a moving target that is determined by public authorities. Your plan must take into account what needs to change in your scheduling processes and operations when priorities unexpectedly shift.

ppe mask

Limited vaccine availability

Likewise, your organization may have little control over how much of the vaccine it receives and when. Scheduling appointments based on estimated shipments can mean canceling those appointments should the amount of the vaccine be less than expected.


Two Doses

What is your plan to ensure compliance with getting the second dose of the correct vaccine? Will you schedule the second dose at the appointment for the first one? What happens if you don't have enough vaccines for the second dose? You may also need to start planning for delivering the vaccine on an annual basis, as some experts are beginning to predict.



How do you plan to educate patients on the benefits and safety of the vaccine? How will you notify patients when they are eligible to receive their vaccination? How will you follow up with them to determine whether they've experienced any adverse effects that should be reported? How will you efficiently and accurately answer patient questions about the safety of the vaccine as well as the process for scheduling?

vaccine logistics


Large vaccination events will require planning expertise and the ability to quickly communicate with patients. How can you protect the vulnerable yet still vaccinate as many people per day as possible? How will you socially distance patients after they've been vaccinated while they are being monitored for adverse reactions? What about inclement weather when people are waiting in line? Have you thought about security to handle situations where tempers flare while people are waiting? All these questions and others become critical if you move from scheduled appointments to walk-in clinics or mass vaccination events at some point in your campaign.

cdc requires vaccine data sharing upward graph

Data collection and reporting

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 vaccination providers must document vaccine administration in their medical record systems within 24 hours of administration. Additionally, providers must use their best efforts to report administration data to the relevant systems for their jurisdiction as soon as practical and no later than 72 hours after administration. How will you handle timely data collection and reporting for COVID-19 vaccinations?

Given the high visibility in the community for COVID-19 vaccination programs, the risks of failure can be significant. For example, your organization could lose revenue if the program is canceled or scaled back, experience patient churn if there is a competing organization doing a better job, or jeopardize future profits if you don't retain existing patients or fail to attract new ones because of negative experiences during the vaccine rollout.

Maintain and Enhance Increased Patient Trust

Patient trust and belief in healthcare providers increased by 60% as a result of COVID-19. To continue being viewed as your patients' trusted voice of truth, educate them early and often with proactive patient communication about COVID-19 vaccines and programs—across all channels.


in healthcare providers increased by


as a result of COVID 19.2

Source: Accenture

How to Get it Right Now and Going Forward

It's clear that the primary reason for doing everything possible to ensure a smooth rollout of the vaccine is to save lives. For some of your at-risk patients, this could be the most important service you'll provide to them.

For exactly that reason, your vaccine clinic will likely be the new "front door" of your health system for the foreseeable future. For patients anxious to receive the vaccine and begin a return to more normal routines, it will be an emotional experience. How you handle that experience will determine whether you cement their relationship with your health system or push them out the door to seek out a better experience somewhere else.

Your plan must be comprehensive and flexible, able to easily and rapidly scale to handle continuous waves of high volume and frequent changes in patient eligibility and availability of vaccine.

Here are some key areas to focus on as you formulate and/or revise your plan for patient engagement:


vaccine communication megaphone


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 free up your staff to assist other patients.

Best practices for vaccine communications:


Dedicated hotlines prevent your main phone system and staff from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 vaccine calls.


Vaccine FAQ chat services answer patient questions and keep them informed.


Broadcast messages to announce vaccine availability—targeting patient groups eligible to schedule their appointments.

Read the blog: Best Practices in Patient Communication During a Pandemic

vaccine scheduling


Make it easy for patients to schedule, confirm, or reschedule vaccine appointments in the channel of their choice. Offer both online self-scheduling and live voice scheduling to book first and second dose vaccination appointments.

Best practices for vaccine scheduling:


Digital self-scheduling streamlines the appointment booking process for patients and staff while freeing up staff to help other patients.


Live voice scheduling provides a channel for patients who prefer the phone or don't have online access. Outsourcing the voice channel frees up your staff and helps you handle higher call volumes while you take care of other patient needs.

Learn about the five must-have features of your COVID-19 vaccine scheduling solution.

vaccine reminders


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:


Waitlist programs 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 social distancing instructions and other protocols.

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vaccine follow up


Have a plan for following up with recently vaccinated patients to find out how they're responding to the vaccine 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:


Post-vaccine follow-up for staff and patients to triage adverse reactions and book follow-up or referral appointments as needed.


Dedicated follow-up hotlines help patients report side effects and receive further instructions.

Follow-up is critical to successful vaccine programs. Learn more.

vaccine data collection bar graph

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 vaccine follow-up:


Track required information with new and existing data fields in your patient engagement and electronic health record (EHR) systems.


Share required data with state and federal reporting systems.

Stericycle's Intelligent Scheduling collects all CDC required data. Learn more.

Positioning Vaccines as Indicated Versus Elective Improves Uptake

Using clear and matter-of-fact language around vaccinations is effective for ensuring patients get preventive care while still preserving patient satisfaction. According to research from Boston Medical Center, clearly communicating to a patient that a vaccine is indicated resulted in a ninefold increase in vaccine receipt compared to elective-style language.3



"You are due for a vaccine"

resulted in a ninefold increase in vaccine receipt compared to

"Would you like to vaccinate?"

The Future of COVID Vaccination

While the nationwide rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is a historical first in many ways, some experts are beginning to believe that we may need to revaccinate on an annual basis, similar to the requirements of the flu vaccine.


Once children are included as well, the COVID-19 vaccine

program may become an even larger,


Saving lives, improving patient trust, attracting new patients, and potentially repeating large-scale vaccinations yearly should be a clear incentive for creating an efficient and repeatable process for patient engagement throughout the vaccination process.

Stericycle is here to help, providing services and solutions that help the healthcare community in two important ways. First, Stericycle Communication Solutions, a service line of Stericycle, Inc., helps meet health system, government, and retail needs for staff and patient communications, scheduling, and engagement. Second, Stericycle, a leading provider of innovative compliance-based solutions, protects what matters with safe disposal of medical and sharps waste generated by COVID-19 vaccines.

Stericycle stands ready to help with online scheduling, broadcast messaging, and patient communication for vaccine operations. Learn more.

1. Do the Math: Vaccines Alone Won't Get Us Out of This Pandemic, Iain MacLeod, Stat, February 10, 2021
2. Survey: How COVID-19 Will Permanently Alter Patient Behavior, Accenture, May 2020
3. Study: Higher Vaccine Rates Associated with Indicative Language by Provider, More Efficient, Boston Medical Center, January 2021
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