HAP Blog

Vaccine Preparation Heads into High Gear: Six Things for Emergency Management Pros to Keep in Mind

December 15, 2020

This week, health care workers in Pennsylvania and across the country welcomed news of the distribution of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Months of planning for this vaccine has been condensed to weeks and days, as hospitals have had to focus on strict guidelines for the storage, allocation, and distribution of the vaccine, in order to maximize every available dose. In some facilities, departments that typically don’t work with each other have had to coordinate efforts to be ready. In others, plans that have been developed for this very purpose are now being operationalized. In a system that already is exhausted from months of surge, it now is time to move into the next phase.

Pennsylvania’s 820,000 health care practitioners have been prioritized in the vaccine’s distribution plan. The development comes as personnel at hospitals and health systems—amid rising case counts, and strains on capacity and resources—have been working around the clock to ensure every patient gets the care they need. 

Consideration of key planning elements will help facilities organize approaches to vaccination, while continuing to provide care to an ever-growing surge, making this a critical time for emergency managers to develop and enhance their point-of-dispensing plans.

Every hospital and health system is unique and their plans will shift based on the specific needs of their facility and workforce. Acknowledging the many variables that exist in a rollout of this magnitude, there are several key points for organizational and operational enhancement of internal dispensing process. Six areas are highlighted below:

  • Determine a safe location—either walk-up or drive-thru—that promotes social distancing
    • Conduct a safety, security and risk analysis to establish the correct location
    • Drive-thru locations should protect vaccinators from the elements
    • Drive-thru locations should have ample que space
    • Consider multiple stations within the drive-thru line for documentation and administration
  • Develop a one-way flow pattern within the vaccination line to limit unnecessary crossing
    • Engage security, maintenance, supply chain and other non-clinical partners
  • Establish a vaccinator staffing plan with clinical and support providers
    • Establish hours of operations consistent with the staffing plan availability
    • Engage volunteers to support roles within the dispensing area
  • Establish methods to move and utilize the vaccine and supplies within the established timelines
  • Exercise, drill and improve upon the operation
  • Partner with media relations to communicate to staff and the public
    • It is important to coordinate with your communications departments early and often to ensure that internal and external messaging needs are met
    • Consider your specific community’s language barriers, cultural diversity, and access and functional needs when creating public information assets
    • Consider your community’s level of public trust in the vaccine, and use the rollout as a way to build understanding about the importance of immunization

These recommended practices are just a few of many considerations that must be made when planning for safe and efficient vaccine delivery. With efficient planning and coordinated response, taking into consideration these and facility specific needs, the vaccination process can be successfully implemented.   

Despite the relatively rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine, health officials in Pennsylvania and across the country stress that the vaccine is safe, and everyone is encouraged to get it when it is their turn. In clinical trials, the vaccines were found to be more than 90 percent effective and the side effects mild.

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