While mass vaccination sites were clearly indispensable when we needed to get shots in arms as quickly as possible to those who wanted them, most large-scale vaccinations centers around the country now folding as demand flattens out. The challenge now to healthcare is to continue to roll out the vaccine to a significant remainder of Americans at more localized sites such as doctors’ offices, pharmacies, and temporary walk-up clinics.
President Joe Biden marked the pandemic milestone over Memorial Day weekend that more than 50 percent of Americans ages 18 and older were fully vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also noted that as of June 1, 48.2 percent or nearly half of the U.S. population ages 12 and older are also fully vaccinated.
And though the remarkable degree of vaccine progress we’ve seen since December 2020 is worth applauding, it’s still too early to start patting ourselves on the back. We’ll have to continue to roll up our sleeves as there’s plenty of work to do to make the vaccine available to remaining holdouts, in many cases, in smaller, more familiar settings.
Where I live, in Utah, health officials are transitioning into more of a long-term vaccination effort where, since mid-May, they haven’t needed to order new first doses of the vaccine from the federal government since supply is now outpacing demand. Authorities here say the idea now is aimed at inoculating those who are more likely to say “yes” to vaccination (estimated to be about a quarter of the population) if the vaccine comes to where they are. Though this next phase of the rollout will certainly be slower, we’ll continue to gain precious ground in America’s goal to vaccinate everyone by making it as convenient as possible. That means offering shots everywhere from primary care physicians’ offices, to churches, to places of employment, to summer festivals.
Obviously, the endeavor will be more challenging than inoculating so-called vaccine enthusiasts when demand was high. We’ll need to work with those who are vaccine reluctant or hesitant who will require continued encouragement, education, and efforts from providers to make it as easy as possible to get the shot. There will also be logistics to consider since the vaccines’ specific refrigeration requirements and the need to avoid wasting any doses will require careful planning and coordination. Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have to be used within six to 12 hours of opening a vial, depending on the manufacturer.
However, this next stage of the vaccine rollout also offers opportunities to hospitals, health systems, and primary care practices to leverage the trust in the doctor-patient relationship to urge fence-sitters to get the vaccine. It also gives providers an opening to begin a conversation with patients, ask them if they’d like to receive the vaccine, and to answer questions, help inform, and resolve any lingering concerns.
Providers can maximize these opportunities in their vaccine rollout efforts through more effective communication that aligns more closely with current patient communication preferences. As the majority of patients increasingly favor texts over phone calls, you can reach more patients and in less time by taking advantage of tools like automated text messages and group messaging to support your vaccination efforts:
- Send out text messages about vaccine availability and scheduling through group texts to eligible patients. A large health system in Alaska sent out nearly 20,000 vaccine text alerts to about 10,000 patients this spring and was able to administer 5,000 vaccine doses in subsequent weeks.
- Use automated texting to send patients scheduling confirmation and appointment reminders to help them arrive ready and on time to receive the vaccine.
- Send text messages with patient surveys to gauge patients’ vaccine hesitancy and offer links to reliable sources of patient information and facts on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy to overcome potential concerns.
- Add a message in regular healthcare visit reminders that the COVID vaccine is available for free at your office, either walk-in or by appointment. This will help patients understand that they can easily receive the vaccine during a previously scheduled in-person visit.
In place of unreturned phone calls and ignored voicemails, text messaging is a more patient-preferred, results-driven method to increase COVID inoculations as patients’ participate in routine in-person visits. And as a trusted source of information about their health, providers are best positioned to help more of their patients and prospective patients get the vaccine in an easy and convenient way.
For more information about how to use a text-first approach to rolling out the vaccine to your patients and community while engendering their trust, check out the case study, “Health System Leverages SR Health Text Messaging to Roll Out COVID-19 Vaccines.”