Whether you’re in charge of administering COVID-19 vaccines at a large sports arena, a grocery store, retail pharmacy, or small popup clinic, the fundamental challenges remain the same:
- healthcare professionals are in short supply.
- vaccine distribution is being disrupted more than expected.
- there are not enough vaccine doses available to meet current demand.
- the variable temperature sensitivity of the vaccine formulations is forcing doses to be administered almost immediately upon arrival.
That’s why it is so important that we put the right processes and technologies in place as soon as possible. We need a better way to collect, analyse and utilise data associated with vaccine distribution and administration to our collective benefit. This data is key to:
- tracking progress against vaccination goals.
- monitoring vaccine performance and understanding how protocols may need to be adapted.
- ensuring individuals receive the right second dose of the vaccine at the right time.
- confirming that the doses were not compromised due to temperature damage prior to administration.
- Reopening the economy.
It is also the best way to avoid missteps as we move fast to get shots in arms. The digitalisation of data collection, analysis and distribution will make it easier to standardise and streamline vaccination efforts at multiple touchpoints. It will also ensure the right patient and vaccine data is being reported now and referenced later when second shots are administered, or side effects are being monitored.
However, technology does far more than just improve the vaccination experience for patients and healthcare providers.
Key considerations for vaccine campaign managers
Temperature-sensitive COVID-19 vaccines must be closely monitored to ensure they remain within the appropriate temperature range during distribution, handling and storage. Both vaccine vial monitors, indicator cards and electronic data loggers can simplify this effort. However, it’s not recommended to wait until the time of administration to confirm a dose’s viability. Checks should occur frequently during the distribution, storage and preparation phases.
If a temperature sensor confirms that a temperature excursion has occurred and doses are ultimately disposed of, patients will need to be notified ASAP. A mobile workforce management and/or task management app can alert staff of the issue and provide step-by-step guidance on how to contact and reschedule patients before they make the (sometimes long) drive to the vaccination site. Site managers can then monitor task progress and assign additional labour resources to make phone calls if needed so that people don’t show up for their appointments only to find out they’ll have to come back.
Proper staffing has a crucial impact on the success of COVID-19 vaccination campaigns. Given the shortage of healthcare professionals, administrative staff, and facilitators available to support vaccination efforts, it is imperative that the scheduling of workers’ time is performed with extreme care. A workforce management solution helps balance labour resources with demand to provide the optimum schedule and allows vaccination facilities to quickly adjust to unexpected changes, such as unplanned vaccine availability or shortfall, extreme weather, or a worker calling in sick.
At government-run sites, there will be some people who were very recently trained to administer vaccines, as well as teams of professionals and volunteers who may have never worked together. It can be challenging to fully brief staff on processes, and transient teams may not remember the little variations as they move around. This is where a task management solution proves very valuable, as it can deliver step-by-step checklists and guidance to ensure no mistakes are made. For example, a simplified set of instructions can be developed for each role and station to improve consistency and safety (i.e., Step 1. Apply hand sanitiser to gloves between each patient. Step 2…).
In addition to workforce scheduling, inventory management technologies are key to success as well. Vaccine vials aren’t the only “inventory” that managers are accountable for at a vaccination site. Other items including personal protective equipment (PPE), needles, alcohol wipes, band aids and waste management supplies and vaccination certificates/cards must be accounted for. Any shortage could result in appointment cancellations and vaccination delays. Therefore, it’s critical that managers employ a technology-powered inventory management system to maintain an accurate count. These systems can automatically report usage to procurement teams – or even directly to suppliers – to trigger reorders before stock runs out.
In other words, the more technology that’s used throughout the process, the more likely managers are to accurately capture and report data, speed up the patient journey and maximise limited labour resources.
Why it’s never too late to start integrating technology into the vaccination process
Inoculating billions of people in a matter of months, in the middle of a global pandemic, will be difficult. But it’s achievable. (Remember, more than fifty years ago we sent a man to the moon and brought him back again.)
Once the right processes and technology are in place, it will become much easier for vaccination facilities to:
- successfully schedule both patients and staff at a manageable (but increased) capacity.
- verify preservation of the cold chain after vials are received or removed from storage.
- quickly confirm patient IDs, vaccination history and current dosing needs;
- report dose administration, side effects and other pertinent campaign monitoring information in critical healthcare, supply chain and government information systems.
- certify vaccination for individuals eager to resume some of their pre-pandemic routines.
Changes won’t happen overnight, but vaccine site managers can take tangible steps today to improve the efficiency and expediency of vaccination administration, eliminate many pain points that currently frustrate both vaccine administrators and patients and reduce the risks of errors and oversights.