'Don't get distracted' and other health exec advice on vaccine rollouts

As they navigate the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, hospital and health system executives must consider the best paths for their organization in terms of scheduling appointments, working with state officials on distribution and administering the shots. 

Below, executives from four health systems nationwide share the best advice they've received about vaccination efforts.  

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for clarity and style.

Sam Bagchi, MD. Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer of Christus Health (Irving, Texas): Part of our DNA at Christus Health is taking the things we do to be highly reliable and bringing them forward in our vaccine program. That means we're thinking about not wasting doses, but it also means we want to create a consistent and reliable experience for patients and people in general in our vaccine clinics. We've had to think about technology, scheduling and the logistics around vaccine hubs. 

The best advice I would say is go back to your core operating principles for the work you do every day and then apply them to what you're trying to do with vaccine programs. That sounds obvious, but when these types of challenges are coming at you left and right, it sometimes feels like these are those one-off initiatives or they're happening in a parallel world to everything else you must do. And we've tried to make this a core part of our clinical operations, and I think that's helped us. We've had a strategic challenge over the last year to expand the lives touched by Christus Health, and our work around that challenge allowed us to think bigger about vaccinations and think strategically about how we can affect the community in ways that go beyond the walls of the hospital. 

Susan Casey Bleasdale, MD. Interim Chief Quality Officer of University of Illinois Hospital & Clinics (Chicago): The best advice is don't get distracted. The overall goal of our program has been to get vaccine out quickly and safely. There have been several points along the way where there is discussion and debate about priorities and order of offering. We have found that if we focus on the broad categories outlined by CDC and the Chicago Department of Health, we can quickly offer vaccine to many people. If we are not distracted by debate, we can focus on operations that allow us to move quickly through tiers and phases and offer more vaccine. The priority levels are just a framework to help deploy vaccine, but we must remember that in the end we want to offer vaccine to everyone. Every vaccine delivered has an opportunity to help us fight the pandemic.    

Jake Henry Jr., President and CEO of Saint Francis Health System (Tulsa, Okla.): Stay true to your brand. Consistency and predictability are two themes that are hardwired into how our team approaches operations and consequently it is what our patients expect from us. For vaccine distribution, we knew we needed to deliver a patient experience that lived up to our brand expectations. To do so, we had to get the details right. Little did we know that two seemingly obvious details would end up being critical to our success. First, ensuring we had a second dose for everyone who received a first dose. Second, maintaining a pool of patients ready to receive the vaccine that equaled the number of doses available. With great attention to detail and process, our team was able to create a COVID-19 vaccination site that functions with the ease, consistency and predictability that our patients expect from us and our brand. 

Bruce Meyer, MD. President of Jefferson Health and Senior Executive Vice President of Thomas Jefferson University (Philadelphia): One of the best pieces of vaccination advice I heard recently is, "It's not every day you get to end a pandemic." Multiple factors will help determine when enough Americans will be protected from COVID-19 to achieve herd immunity. 

First, when will there be sufficient vaccine produced and distributed so everyone can receive their dose(s)? This includes vaccinating those who may have immune protection from actual infections but are vaccinated anyway to increase durable protection. Our weekly vaccine shipments have been less than anticipated, and we eagerly await the expansion of supply from the federal government so that we can move on to additional phases of patient vaccination.

Second, will enough people agree to be vaccinated? We know that many people, and especially our underrepresented minority community, are more skeptical about vaccination, and we can all become educated and inform our friends, family and communities about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. Third, will new variants of the virus be responsive to the immune response from the vaccines, and can we get enough people vaccinated before more new variants develop? 

Finally, what is the durability of vaccine-induced protection? Will we need booster shots of even annual ones? This will only become known over time, but does not stop our efforts to slow and cease continued transmission of COVID.

Each of these factors play a role in ending the pandemic. I am hopeful, when considering all factors, that it will be late summer or early fall when we get to sufficient protection. But we all realize that hope is not a strategy. So, it will take our best efforts to help stop this deadly virus.

 

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