It is nearly impossible to discuss a COVID-19 vaccine without acknowledging the politically charged nature of the topic. Hopes for ultimately defeating the coronavirus pandemic are pinned largely on the rapid development and widespread distribution of a vaccine, and people around the world eagerly anticipate ditching their masks and gathering safely without a six foot cushion. Bar and tavern owners are certainly ready and long for the day when they can pour celebratory shots for a booze-fueled celebration sure to rival the end of Prohibition.
Government funding for vaccine development is abundant, and numerous organizations around the globe are racing to formulate and test vaccine candidates. Pharma companies are moving at warp speed, and in the U.S. this initiative is even called Operation Warp Speed. The potential for vaccine availability this fall is a significant factor in the upcoming U.S. presidential election, and an October surprise in the form of a COVID-19 shot would no doubt influence the outcome.
Many are skeptical of a vaccine rushed to market, especially if scientific shortcuts are taken. Clinical trials take time, and concerns about safety, side effects and efficacy will give many pause as they contemplate the risks and benefits of queueing up for a dose developed at a record pace. Add in the existing skepticism from the anti-vaxxer crowd and the inevitable internet-enhanced conspiracy theories and “to get the shot, or not get the shot” will be a hot topic this year and next.
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued guidance to state governors instructing them to make plans for vaccine availability in early November. This guidance indicated that initial supplies will likely be limited, making proper allocation critically important. Critical workforce that provides health care and maintains the essential functions of society will likely be at the top of the allocation priority list.
Twenty-four hours later, our health system clients started reaching out to us as they initiated planning efforts to prepare for mass immunization. The need to be ready in two months combined with the issues swirling around this subject make for interesting conversations, and our customers are already on high alert status as they manage the COVID pandemic and kick-off their annual employee flu immunization programs.
Fortunately, we are able to counsel our clients to take a deep breath as we remind them that what is often referred to as the Enterprise Health flu module is actually a mass immunization module, and that capability coupled with other embedded functionality can be used to streamline the management of a COVID-19 vaccine program — whenever it occurs.
While healthcare workers are on the priority list, within most health systems the employee population will vary dramatically in terms of COVID-19 vaccine allocation hierarchy, with those who manage COVID cases such as respiratory therapists, pulmonologists and cardiologists likely coming first. Enterprise Health interfaces with client HR systems, so we have accurate and up-to-date demographics that indicate job role, function, location and other variables that can be used to pinpoint where an individual falls in the vaccine priority line.
Our health surveillance program can then be used to create appropriate vaccination panels, with different rules and triggers based on population priority. Surveillance panels can be used to generate email notices to schedule a vaccination and complete consent forms in advance, and the program tracks compliance and participation rates. Business rules can also trigger second-dose notices if a follow-up injection is required.
The Enterprise Health employee portal can be used to improve the process, automating scheduling and filling out questionnaires, consents and declinations. We have also optimized the vaccination process, enabling high throughput with minimal personal contact to manage the dangerous intersection of COVID-19 symptoms, flu season and vaccination.
Last but not least, the solution generates reports that provide up-to-date status, and we can also interface with state immunization registries to simplify compliance reporting.
Regardless of political leanings and personal stances on whether it makes more sense to be first in line for a vaccine or take a wait and see approach, we are helping our clients prepare for a massive vaccination program in a compressed time window as we manage the confluence of COVID-19, flu and a world of uncertainty.