Co-founder & CEO of DocASAP, the most advanced patient access and engagement platform for health systems, health plans and physician groups.
The development and initial distribution of Covid-19 vaccines marked a defining moment in U.S. history and public health. The accelerated time to market of the vaccines is a true testament to modern medicine and collaboration. The next-fastest vaccine developed took three years longer. Despite this record-breaking development time, the real challenge will be administering these shots at historic speed before emerging variants of the virus spread.
Notable partnerships created across healthcare, retail, pharma and more have accelerated the rollout, but even as we surpass 3 million vaccinations per day, various complexities associated with inoculating 330 million Americans persist. Up until this point in the rollout, technology has played a vital role in our journey toward herd immunity, just as new technologies like telehealth visits and contact tracing helped support our communities as a result of the health crisis. However, more must be done to ensure the vaccination rate outpaces the spread of highly contagious new variants and that these vaccinations are correctly administered and recorded.
The Power Of Unlikely Partnerships
With vaccines making their way into the arms of Americans everywhere, we recognize that these doses undergo quite the trip between production and administration. This rollout is a tremendous feat for health systems, healthcare workers, pharmaceutical manufacturers and government officials alike. Luckily, various organizations and businesses, sometimes even direct competitors, have announced some significant partnerships.
One critical partnership that marks a turning point for the Covid-19 pandemic occurred when the CDC engaged CVS, Walgreens and Managed Healthcare Associates, Inc to vaccinate residents and staff at long-term care facilities. This initiative efficiently inoculated members of the most vulnerable population in the U.S., prompting a steep decline in Covid-19 cases and deaths and helped administer the precious first doses of the vaccine quickly. Since then, the CDC and pharmacy giants have forged more partnerships — most recently with Target and, unexpectedly, Dollar Tree — in hopes of boosting patient access in rural areas where big-box retailers are limited.
At this point, a large portion of high-risk individuals, such as elderly Americans, essential workers and those living in congregate settings are fully vaccinated. Yet, as the summer approaches, still one in five Americans say that they do not want to receive a Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccine hesitancy presents a whole new set of obstacles for state governments. To navigate these challenges, state officials overseeing the rollout must rely heavily on healthcare providers such as primary care physicians to educate their patients on the importance of getting vaccinated as soon as possible.
Those within these populations with no underlying conditions and who do not work in an essential trade may feel less pressure to schedule a vaccine appointment right away or distrust the vaccine due to misinformation spread across social media in recent months. Tech giants are taking new steps to thwart vaccine misinformation on their platforms. In mid-March, Facebook launched a new tool that would make “real-time aggregate trends in Covid-19 vaccinations, intent to get vaccinated and reasons for hesitancy available to public officials to inform equitable vaccine rollout.” This effort builds on an earlier Facebook announcement that detailed its plan to combat Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation across all its platforms, asserting that it is investing $100 million in the media industry and supporting fact-checkers.
However, combating misinformation is certainly not the only way tech companies play an integral role in encouraging and streamlining vaccinations. For smarter vaccine distribution, Moderna engaged IBM in a strategic partnership aimed at bolstering vaccine supply chain visibility by providing nearly real-time vaccine tracking. Additionally, Amazon is stepping up to lend space for a vaccination clinic at its brand-new corporate headquarters, Amazon HQ2, in Arlington, VA. Further, in anticipation of airlines and governments requiring proof of inoculation prior to travel, various innovators like Oracle, Salesforce and Microsoft recently teamed up to launch a digital vaccine passport coalition. Initiatives like these reflect tech companies’ growing influence on the healthcare industry and demonstrate the government’s increased dependence on tech corporations to support social causes.
Engagement And Coordination
Even with all that has been done to successfully roll out Covid-19 vaccines, engaging healthy Americans and encouraging them to schedule vaccine appointments — especially over the multiweek window required for Pfizer and Moderna’s two-dose regimens — remains challenging. State governments must continue to work with providers to strategize how, when and where patients will receive their doses. We can no longer accept situations where Americans are refreshing five different websites, calling four different urgent care facilities and waiting outside their local pharmacies just to receive a dose.
Some key capabilities to consider in a solution include digital outreach to targeted populations, online appointment self-scheduling, reminders that assist patients in preparing for their vaccination and curb no-shows, EHR integrations for accurate reporting and post-inoculation wellness tracking. As cases of highly contagious Covid-19 variants seem to be popping up in a new states, state and health officials must develop a strategy that streamlines mass vaccinations before the variants spread through the population.
Tech leaders can support local and state governments in strategic planning by prioritizing things like reliable internet connectivity in remote vaccination settings because even a little downtime can derail such a sensitive, high-volume operation. Similarly, patient privacy and data security concerns should be top of mind. Specifically, tech companies should ensure their security practices align with each state’s unique privacy laws.
A Model for Future Public Health Crises
Vaccinating America takes more than a village — it involves a complicated supply chain process never attempted before and an airtight alliance between government, business, tech and healthcare. While the months that lie ahead will be challenging, the extraordinary progress made so far will forge a new standard in care and digital health innovation.