In early August, the federal government announced that it had reached its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of American adults with a first COVID-19 shot, a month after the July 4 deadline set by President Joe Biden. Still, the progress is uneven. Just 20 states – plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam – had reached this target as of early August. As of August 2, 2021, 165 million U.S. residents, 50.3 percent are fully vaccinated, leaving many still vulnerable. Mass vaccination is critical to ending the pandemic, and it’s clear we’re not where we need to be.
More targeted approaches are a must, both now and down the road, when booster shots will likely be needed. No one wants to return to lockdowns; it is in the best interest of businesses and local, state, and national government bodies alike to adopt new strategies and solutions to help the U.S. reach herd immunity and return to some form of normalcy. How can we reach the necessary level of immunity, despite various factors slowing things down at this crucial moment?
The current vaccination level is impressive, but demand for shots has dropped at vaccination facilities and some are even winding down their efforts. Moreover, there are pockets of people who haven’t been vaccinated because they are under the impression that the vaccine is not free, and others are concerned about missing work on account of the side effects of taking the shot. There is a clear need to move to more targeted or precise outreach to people through a combination of popup sites, mobile units, and in-home/at-work vaccinations.
Avenues to a Cure
A major challenge in the immunization picture is the sheer number of moving parts involved in vaccination management – but coordinating them all is absolutely critical to putting the pandemic in the past. Clearly, awareness around how, where, and when to get immunized needs to increase. Beyond that, governmental bodies and private entities alike can benefit from an end-to-end solution.
It is imperative to deploy technology solutions to help states, provider groups, and employers coordinate efforts from the ground level up. A true end-to-end solution employing the appropriate resources throughout the entire project lifecycle is needed and can be accomplished by developing a centralized command center, leveraging contract medical staffing support, and coordinating onsite support.
A data-driven approach that takes in operational metrics and geographic information to drive analytics and reporting efforts is still needed, integrated with state immunization services and insurer interfaces. In tandem with established, robust communications and outreach capabilities, such a program connects with critical audiences to improve the overall vaccination conversion rate among the public and employee groups alike.
Considerations for seamless operations start with vaccination scheduling and registration, supporting ongoing communications around requirements and notices, and navigating insurance considerations. They extend to measuring the rate of demand and ensuring the appropriate medical and administrative staff is deployed for support through to completion. These data outputs can then be leveraged to develop a digital record-keeping system for proof of vaccination, wherever such requirements may be put into place.
Incentives for Improvement
A number of different groups would benefit from targeted outreach efforts by the public and private sector. Those in communities of need tend to be distrustful of the public healthcare system in general, while the young tend to assume that their youth and presumed good health will keep them safe from the worst effects of the virus. Others are hesitant because the Covid-19 vaccines are brand new and have been brought to market so quickly, or because even the immunized are advised to continue taking precautions like masking and frequent handwashing.
Some of this skepticism and hesitancy can be overcome by the fact that many employers are requiring employees to get vaccinated before returning to the workplace. While this is a rather blunt instrument, this requirement is legal per the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under most circumstances (exceptions to this requirement include disability considerations and religious accommodations).
While continued employment is certainly a strong motivator to get vaccinated, companies and government bodies are providing other incentives to do so. Businesses are offering paid time off for employees to get vaccinated offsite or for recovery time. Some are also conducting vaccinations on-site or offering gift cards and other prizes. Government sources are also offering incentives; for example, in late April, West Virginia announced that residents aged 16 to 35 who provide proof of immunization will receive a $100 US savings bond through an incentive program funded by the CARES Act. Proposals like so-called “vaccine passports” and the possibility that admission to schools as well as concerts and similar large events will require proof of immunization will also combine with peer pressure to incentivize people to get immunized.
A Way Forward, and Through
In a little over half a year, vaccine supply has come to outstrip demand in many places across the country. Yet only 181 million U.S. adults had received at least one vaccine dose through early August. The rise of new, more transmissible variants will make vaccinations all the more urgent. With a smart, data-based strategy, we can come through this bottleneck and move forward into a summer and fall of health and hope.
Pam Shipley is chief operating officer of Sharecare (Nasdaq: SHCR), a digital health company optimizing individual and population-wide well-being through positive behavioral change. Vasu Bhat is a managing director at AArete, a global management consultancy specializing in data-informed performance improvement. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.