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Digital Communication Tools Bring Efficiency to Vaccine Distribution

The key to stopping the spread of the COVID virus is getting vaccines into the arms of individuals. Leveraging AI- and cloud-based technology can automate that process and ultimately save lives.

by Avaya / February 19, 2021

Vaccination is a major tool to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccines such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna that prevent symptomatic COVID infection in roughly 95 percent of people vaccinated should eventually help the country and the world return to a life of normalcy.

The key to success is getting vaccination needles into people’s arms. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 75 to 80-plus percent of the population must be immune to halt the spread of the coronavirus.1

The challenge for organizations is how to efficiently manage the logistics of getting vaccines to the right people, at the right time. After receiving vaccine dosages from the federal government, state agencies are relying on a network of providers to administer the vaccines to individuals. These providers include hospitals and doctors’ offices, pharmacies, health departments, federally qualified health centers and other clinics that currently play a role in administering vaccines. Local distribution and scheduling are, for the most part, in the hands of these health-care providers.

Any organization involved in vaccine distribution must leverage technology to make the process more efficient. Left to manual processes, vaccine administration is prone to error. As a result, government agencies and health-care providers need a suite of digital communications solutions to address the unique challenges related to COVID-19 vaccine administration. Artificial intelligence-based technology provides the automation and digitization organizations need to notify people, giving them instructions on how and where to receive vaccination — ultimately saving lives.

Distribution Challenges

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Interim Operational Guidance for Jurisdictions Playbook to assist state and territorial governments, public health officials, and their partners in the planning and implementation of their vaccination programs.2 Yet, every state operates differently. State officials have the same goals but apply processes differently. Therefore, states need a framework that can integrate with disparate approaches, helping agencies and health-care providers derive the best value from technology.

By early February, about 27.9 million people had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including about 6.9 million people who have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.3

Available data continues to support the use of two specified doses of each authorized vaccine at specified intervals. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the interval is 21 days between the first and second dose. And for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the interval is 28 days between the first and second dose.4 Scheduling individuals for that second dose is where there might be breakdowns in communication, which defeats the whole purpose of vaccination.

There are four areas from the CDC playbook where digital communications can be applied to improve the flow of vaccine administration.

  1. Identify critical populations such as health-care workers, first responders and senior citizens, who must be vaccinated first. It is essential to ensure that they receive their second dose. Automation can provide tremendous value for this task.
  2. Collect, track and report key measures of progress. Tracking and reporting is important to improve and optimize vaccine inventory based upon changes.
  3. Establish a comprehensive communication plan around vaccination. Letting people know where and when to go for vaccinations and who qualifies for vaccination is essential. For instance, a hospital reportedly sent out a mass email about their vaccination plans. However, the hospital got inundated with calls and didn’t have enough phone communication lines to handle the large volume of calls. A cloud-based call inflection service could have handled those calls. The service could help route qualified people to a call center for assistance and other people to a website for further information.
  4. Safety monitoring is essential as providers perform vital functions including properly storing, handling and managing vaccine supply as well as administering vaccines to intended recipients. Thus, providers need a clear understanding of COVID-19 Vaccination Program requirements. Training, site visits and other oversight measures are important for maintaining or improving providers’ adherence to these requirements.

Cloud Offers Elasticity, Scalability

Communication services that can automate tasks and workflows related to awareness, capacity, throughput, execution of the first shot and, in between reminding recipients of a second dose, must be flexible enough to be applied on top of any existing infrastructure. Then these services can assist with the critical requirements of successful administration of the vaccine.

This can best be achieved with a HIPAA-compliant cloud. A cloud-based platform-as-a-service environment helps organizations quickly customize and deploy automated processes to address the many communication challenges of the vaccine rollout, including identifying and reaching priority populations; collecting, tracking and reporting key measures of progress; effective appointment management including second dose facilitation; safety monitoring; and ensuring a comprehensive communications plan to support the vaccination process.

Harris County, Texas, the third-largest county in the United States, implemented a HIPAA-compliant notification solution for COVID-19 contact tracing. Containment of the pandemic depends on rapid notification, but prior to the solution, the department relied on traditional mail and manual dialing, which delayed notification. The solution enables the department to engage with thousands of residents daily via automated outbound voice calls and text messages. 5

Artificial intelligence plays a role, personalizing first-time and follow-up outreach based on contact information, language preferences, testing status and other data. Using the solution, the department has been able to successfully investigate nearly 25 percent more cases than it could before, which translates into more successful containment and saved lives.

Moving Forward

The past year has been one of the most difficult times in public health history as health providers struggled to serve the basic needs of patients while dealing with a pandemic. But the pandemic also accelerated digital transformation across government agencies, health institutions and their partners, spurring innovation and forcing people to think out of the box. New technologies are enabling organizations to streamline the logistics and scheduling of vaccines with secure automation and cloud-based monitoring communications services that ensure the right people are getting vaccinated, at the right time.

  1. Donald G. McNeil Jr. New York Times. How Much Herd Immunity Is Enough? December 24, 2020
  2. COVID-19 Vaccination Program Operational Guidance
  3. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID Data Tracker
  4. The Food and Drug Administration, FDA Statement on Following the Authorized Dosing Schedules for COVID-19 Vaccines
  5. Contact Tracing: Keeping Communities Safe as We Move Forward

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