COVID Vaccines: What about the underserved communities?
By: Natalie Cheng
Where can I get a COVID vaccine? With the still relative scarcity of the vaccine, the hunt for COVID vaccines has picked up steam. Online communities dubbed Vaccine Hunters are popping up across the web. As the COVID vaccine rollout continues across the world, those that haven’t been vaccinated are wondering where and when they can get the vaccine. It’s already tough enough to get a vaccine even if you have a computer or smartphone to sign up. Imagine not having the technology, skills, or even access to go to a clinic or drive-through vaccination event.
The underserved communities have several factors that create challenges to serve them that include, but are not limited to, people that are homebound, elderly that may not have the technical knowledge let alone a smartphone, population without access to personal transportation, the internet, smart phones, etc. Private clinics and pharmacies serve the masses because reaching out to these fringe groups is not profitable. As vaccine administrators and health departments, the responsibility to find a solution to serve this community falls on you. So how do you support these communities? Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet, yet deploying a combination of strategies will ensure a high percentage of this population is served.
- Online Registration – This is the most efficient and least costly solution to deploy. If the person can register themself online to get the vaccine, then, there’s nothing more except for the person to arrange transportation to the clinic or vaccination site.
- Proxy Registration – If a person is not capable or comfortable to register online, is there a family member or friend that can register them and help coordinate getting them to a vaccination site? Additional methods to register by proxy or meet this group where they are include the additional methods below.
- Call Center – If the person doesn’t have a computer or smartphone or isn’t comfortable with using this technology, vaccine administrators can set up a call center so that either a virtual agent or a live operator can register the caller for a vaccine using the Online Registration system and a passcode protected site.
- On-site – Another option is setting up a vaccine center and having people come on-site on a specific day and time to register and get the vaccine. The vaccine administrator can fill out the person’s information for them in the online registration system and administer the vaccine. Keep in mind: for this option, organizations need to remember to put social distancing measures in place and ensure that they won’t have 1,000+ people showing up at once to sign up unless they have the capacity to safely do so.
- Senior Living and Nursing Homes – Give staff access to the online registration system with a private passcode-controlled date and time. The staff can register all the residents of senior living and patients of the nursing homes by going door to door with an internet connected device such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. If the facility already has all the necessary information for each resident in their EHR system, then the staff can sign up their community from their system and directly in the online registration system. The health department can make a single trip, quickly and efficiently, with no paperwork and vaccinate the community.
- Buses or Mobile Clinics – For communities that may not have access to transportation or are otherwise homebound, buses and/or mobile clinics can help serve these communities. For example, vaccine administrators can set up buses to shuttle in people to get the vaccine at a site. Another option would be to set up mobile clinics that will drive out to communities and help register and administer the vaccine directly to communities.
- Faith-based and other Community Outreach Volunteers – Volunteers can canvass neighborhoods and register residents online for Home or Neighborhood Pop-up clinics, again secured by password-protected sites created specifically for that community.
- Homebound – Individuals who can register online or have some help in registering such as discussed above can denote the need for home-based vaccinations. Using collected location data, health departments can coordinate home visits to meet this group’s needs. As organizations prepare to vaccinate more people, remember to support underserved communities, homebound, and elderly residents.
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