Health systems, pharmacies and health departments across the country are scrambling to vaccinate enough people to slow the spread of COVID-19 and hopefully reach herd immunity. But that progress is being hindered by vaccine supply unpredictability and a lack of a cohesive national plan to distribute the vaccine, hospital executives say.
Mike Slubowski, president and CEO of Trinity Health, a faith-based health system based in Michigan, called the COVID-19 vaccination initiative the "greatest public health feat of our lifetime," during a webinar Tuesday hosted by the American Hospital Association.
During the webinar, Slubowski and other hospital executives shared tips on how to improve the vaccination process.
1. Create certainty and transparency in the vaccine supply chain.
Dr. Joe Cacchione, executive vice president of clinical and network services for Ascension Health, a faith-based integrated health system based in St. Louis, said systems are "fearful of having to cancel second doses."
"We're increasingly more uncomfortable about predictability and the transparency about the supply of vaccine we're going to get," Cacchione said."
Ascension has 160,000 doses of the vaccine on its shelves, 80,000 of which are being saved for second doses and 65,000 of which are scheduled to be administered. The remaining 15,000 doses are being saved for unexpected situations, he said.
He recommended the federal government create a public-facing dashboard showing the supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses.
2. Standardize vaccine policy across states and large cities.
Dr. Christopher Rehm, senior vice president and chief medical officer for LifePoint Health, a healthcare system based in Nashville, said his system operates in 29 states, and they "have literally seen 29 different ways of doing things."
3. Streamline distribution and allow health systems to receive vaccine supply directly.
Slubowski said systems often have 72 hours' notice of how vaccine they will receive, which makes it difficult to plan.
"We have capacity to triple or quadruple the number of shots administered," he said. "It's hard to tell frontline workers and the elderly they need to reschedule shots because we didn't receive supply."
4. Create a national plan for partnership and distribution.
"Vaccine distribution needs to be more streamlined, and it should be easier to develop partnerships that help make this possible," Rehm said.
He recommends developing partnerships with pharmacies and using their blueprints for flu vaccination.
5. Supply federal funding for outreach, vaccine supply, planning and administration and distribution efforts.
Organizing and executing a mass vaccination effort is time intensive and costly, and the federal government should ssend financial support to aid the process, executives said.