How to roll out a COVID-19 Mass Vaccination Programme
From upskilling and sharing patient success stories to mobile vaccine hubs, we share some approaches to getting the COVID-19 vaccine to the right people at the right time.
For the successful roll out of a vaccine, three simple things need to come together – the vaccine, a healthcare professional that can administer it, and a patient that is willing and able to take it.
To bring these three variables together under normal circumstances is a logistical challenge, but with the delicate Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, this is much harder.
In this article, we hear from Jyotika Singh, a specialist pharmacist with extensive experience advising on healthcare strategy both in hospital and within government. Now an associate with The PSC and part of our Mass Vaccine support programme – Jyoti shares her recommendations based on her experience rolling out the annual flu jab.
Let's peer under the bonnet of this huge logistical undertaking to bring the vaccine, the patient and the healthcare worker together.
1. The Vaccine
Storage, logistics and delivery
The Pfizer vaccine presents huge logistical challenges, more so than with the average vaccine. It’s exceptionally delicate, requires two doses, needs to be stored at low temperatures and once out of the fridge it expires quickly, giving healthcare professionals just 6hrs to administer it.
Currently there are limited hubs able to effectively store and administer the vaccine, and healthcare workers are filling up available slots where they can’t get enough patients through the door to prevent waste (useful certainly, but not a long-term solution).
With a vaccine that is difficult to transport and a large vulnerable population that needs the vaccine but can’t come into hospitals, how can we get the vaccine to the people that need it most?
If the patient can’t come to the vaccine, we need to take it to them.
The news that GPs will offer the COVID vaccine is a step in the right direction, but Jyoti questions how we can take that further to ensure the most vulnerable and isolated in our society who can’t or won’t go to their local GP will receive the vaccine.
Jyoti suggests mobile hubs to take the vaccine out into the community – buses with the vaccine could be taken to Nursing Homes, Residential Homes, and other harder to reach communities. Fundamentally it’s about each local area understanding what works for their community – drop-in clinics might be suited to some parts of London, but in a more rural area, a more structured approach of mobile hubs might be needed.
2. The Patient
Transparency and trust
Once we get the vaccine physically to patients, the next hurdle is ensuring the patient wants to, and feels good about, taking the vaccine.
Communication sits at the heart of this, and Jyoti recommends sharing patient success stories. With concern in some communities about the speed with which the vaccine has been launched, the aim is to create a positive feedback loop. Most people just want to know, how will this benefit me, and how can I help others?
We want to encourage people to share their positive experience of the vaccine, show how it’s helped them protect others and do their bit for their community. Creating local support networks or online forums so people can share their experiences and how they are feeling can be powerful. The role of digital tools to spread this message around local communities should not be underestimated.
3. The Healthcare Worker
Tapping into the right Workforce
With an already stretched NHS continuing to cope with COVID, the idea of being able to free up any healthcare resource to carry out the mass vaccination programme might seem near impossible.
Jyoti reflected that the only other time she’d seen a call for staffing at this scale was at the start of the pandemic earlier this year, and there’s a significantly more fatigued workforce now. She suggests trying to turn this into a positive – invest in offering skills, education and resources to people that would like to be trained up in administering vaccinations. For example, perhaps someone working at a nursing home might want to offer their time once a week to upskill and provide vaccinations.
Clearly upskilling does take time, so in the interim, thinking outside the box to tap into other resources will be necessary – from using the logistical skills of the army to the resources of private hospitals. But it’s a marathon, not a run, Jyoti warns, so long-term investment in skill development is crucial.
Getting the right digital infrastructure in place can make a huge difference to the speed at which the vaccine can be administered in communities and to ensure staff time is used efficiently.
Jyoti mentions that because the vaccine is new, consenting people for it is currently taking up to half an hour (much longer than with other, long-standing vaccines). Creating an online system that can consent people before they even arrive for their jab would be an excellent way to ensure more vaccinations take place. A slick online booking system will also help to get enough people through the door to prevent wastage.
There are huge challenges ahead to rolling out this vaccine - thinking outside the box, knowing your community, investing in upskilling, and effectively using digital infrastructure to free up time will be crucial.
If you'd like to discuss further, our Mass Vaccination support team at The PSC would love to speak to you. Get in touch with Antonio Weiss (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Chris Bradley (email@example.com) to hear more.
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