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Managing the biggest COVID-19 vaccine challenges

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

by Dick Flanigan

Published on 12/17/2020

Many parts of the world are experiencing the darkest days of the pandemic amid a significant surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and lives lost; yet, we have the positive news of safe and effective vaccines rolling out to help us lower the spread of the virus and build protection from the disease.

While the first phase of vaccination has begun in some countries, at this point, large-scale distribution isn’t expected until spring 2021. Vaccine developers say they’ll have enough doses for more than one-third of the world’s population by the end of 2021.

In this blog, we explore the key challenges that the industry needs to address and how health IT tools can help manage mass COVID-19 vaccination efforts. 

Operational readiness

Staffing: Many health organizations are already dealing with staffing shortages due to COVID-19 surges. To meet the demand for immunizations, there may be a need to transfer staff and hire additional personnel. Workload forecasting solutions like Cerner Clairvia® can use clinically driven data to automate workforce management decisions and ensure that the right caregivers, are in the right place, at the right time.

Storage and Handling: Errors in vaccine storage and handling are a serious patient safety concern. Organizations must ensure they have the required equipment on hand and that everyone is thoroughly trained on the differences in how to properly store, prepare and administer the various vaccine options.

For example, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be kept in a specialized freezer at an ultracold, minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 Celsius) and once thawed can only be kept in a refrigerator for five days. Meanwhile, the Moderna vaccine can be stored frozen at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius) and keeps for a month at refrigerator temperature.

Clinicians at Truman Medical Centers (TMC) in Kansas City, Missouri, use CareAware Connect™ to scan vaccine vials with their mobile devices, automatically inputting all required data into the system.

Distribution workflows: The Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines all require two doses given three to four weeks apart. Vaccine management systems can be useful in helping providers establish workflows that account for these multiple doses, as well as, screening, consent, patient scheduling, quick on-site registrations and administering shots in nontraditional locations like parking lots.

TMC is using Cerner Revenue Cycle management solutions to streamline patient scheduling and registration for vaccines and to document appointments and follow-up strategies.

Some of the same technology and workflows used for seasonal flu vaccinations can be applied to administering COVID-19 shots. For example, Boston Children’s Hospital vaccinated 1,590 patients from Oct. 7 to Nov. 6, 2020 at their drive-through flu clinic compared to the 90 patients vaccinated using traditional full chart workflows from Sept. 6 to Oct. 6. – a 16-fold increase. The organization will replicate this process to vaccinate their frontline health care workers against COVID-19. This success story is attributed, in part, to the use of the Cerner Mass Vaccination (Mass Vacc) solution, an extension of the EHR that’s available at no cost to Cerner clients. Mass Vacc enhances patient registration to significantly decrease the time it takes to identify needed vaccines and complete administration documentation at scale, without sacrificing safety.

The U.S. Department of Defense has adopted the solution for their EHR modernization initiative, known as MHS GENESIS, to administer a variety of vaccinations. At Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington, DOD clinicians on average managed this process for each patient from start to finish in three to four minutes using the Cerner solution. The DOD and U.S. Coast Guard are using the Mass Vacc solution configured within MHS GENESIS to administer the COVID-19 vaccine at their sites that are live with the new EHR.

IT systems: Recent cyberattacks targeting the COVID-19 supply chain underscore the critical need for health organizations to beef up their cybersecurity postures as a part of their vaccine programs. Cerner can provide hospitals with managed security services that deter and mitigate cyber threats. In addition, health systems must also get current and stay current to ensure they’re able to access the latest solutions for better operations and care delivery.

Consumer outreach and engagement

A recent study shows that 58% of Americans say they’d take a COVID-19 vaccine. That number drops to 48% for non-White adults. Vaccines must be administered to have value, so it’s crucial for health care leaders to develop a strategy around educating the public on the availability, importance, safety and effectiveness of the shots.

Within the HealtheLifeSM portal, patients will have access to their vaccination records. Health care organizations will also be able to use capabilities within HealtheLife to communicate with their patients.

Reporting and analytics

Health care organizations will need to collect comprehensive data on things like who has been vaccinated, wasted doses, second dose follow-ups, adverse reactions and supply levels. These data elements must be documented and reported to public health agencies and immunization registries.

The Cerner EHR is optimized to capture critical codes and discrete data elements around vaccinations within the workflow, allowing for seamless analytics and reporting. To increase the open and secure flow of vaccine data, TMC is leveraging the Cerner Immunization Hub to send and receive vaccine information at the state level.

Patients may seek different sites to receive their vaccine, and Cerner is also creating dashboards that take into consideration multiple EHRs and claims data within HealtheAnalyticsSM. These dashboards will help identify who has tested positive, who has been vaccinated as well as other demographics, including geospatial analytics. Health care organizations will be able to add employee data to help track and manage vaccinations across their own populations.

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues, vaccines offer incredible hope for managing the disease and saving lives. With the help of systems and technology, providers can better oversee their mass vaccination programs and get doses to the people who need them most – safer and faster.

The COVID-19 pandemic has united the entire health care ecosystem to work around-the-clock to solve challenging issues that our industry has never encountered at such speed and scale. Cerner is proud to navigate this arduous journey with our clients. Learn more here.