COVID-19 vaccine distribution: How 4 systems are deciding who gets first shots

With the virus surging in many areas, getting front-line caregivers inoculated is more important than ever. It's also a crucial step in preventing staffing shortages. 

Many hospitals and health systems have implemented plans to streamline the vaccine distribution.

Here, four healthcare leaders share the plans their organizations are using to determine which healthcare workers are vaccinated first. 

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

Michelle Barron, MD, senior director for infection prevention and control at UCHealth (Aurora, Colo.): UCHealth is planning to begin COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as the vaccine is available. The state of Colorado and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have developed a distribution plan for our state, and we are required to follow their plan. Initial supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine will be very limited, and at this time, we do not know exactly when we may receive those shipments. The state's guidelines call for the initial COVID-19 vaccine doses to be available for healthcare workers, and we will begin with those who are providing direct care to hospitalized patients with COVID-19 and those who work in our emergency departments. As we receive additional supplies, we will also provide vaccinations for healthcare workers in other areas, including outpatient clinics. Our distribution will be based on the healthcare workers' proximity to patients with COVID-19, not on their employment status or job title. Affiliated providers and contracted housekeeping staff members who work in our COVID-19 units may receive the COVID-19 vaccination at the same time as their co-workers, including nurses, respiratory therapists and others, as supplies allow.

Joe Gastaldo, MD, system medical director for infectious diseases at OhioHealth (Columbus): Over the last several months, OhioHealth has been planning for eventual COVID-19 vaccine delivery and administration to our associates. We have been following the vaccine prioritization as outlined in the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine publication, A Framework for Equitable Allocation for Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus

As further information is made available for vaccine prioritization by the CDC and Ohio Department of Health, OhioHealth is ensuring that we are in alignment with all vaccine prioritization recommendations. 

At OhioHealth, the initial vaccine prioritization will be with healthcare workers who directly interact with COVID-19 patients or provide a critical role in supporting the care of COVID patients and facilities, i.e. food and environmental services. In addition, initial vaccine prioritization will include emergency medicine providers and emergency medicine support staff. OhioHealth has started communications with all associates regarding the vaccination process, with an emphasis on transparency. In addition, OhioHealth already started a robust COVID-19 vaccination education and messaging program for all providers & associates.

Joshua Kooistra, DO, CMO of Spectrum Health West Michigan (Grand Rapids): Spectrum Health will be administering the vaccine with priority to team members who are critical to delivering care to our community, including front-line workers in our emergency departments, intensive care units and dedicated COVID-19 units and the teams that support them.

Brian Parker, MD, chief quality officer of Allegheny Health Network (Pittsburgh): The first real priority personnel are the folks in the emergency departments, the inpatient units and the ICUs that take care of COVID-19 patients. If you work in that ICU where we take care of COVID patients, you're going to be at the top of the list, and similarly for the floors, the inpatient units and the emergency department. Then once we get through those individuals, we'll go back and then go through the rest of the inpatient setting in the other ICUs, the other inpatient units and the other observation units, the rest of the emergency department. 

Then we'll get to the areas of the hospital where there are procedures and operations going on. That takes you then to where there's bronchoscopies, gastroenterology, the radiology and imaging suites, the operating rooms, and the post-anesthesia recovery room. Then we will take care of basically the entire physical plant of the hospital, along with all the ancillary services. 

It's a very methodical approach, but because many of our hospitals have dedicated COVID units — both ICUs and inpatient settings — we know who those employees are who are there. Those are the ones we're targeting first, and then we'll branch out into the rest of each hospital. 

Because of the phased approach by the state, obviously then, as a health system we branch out from those hospitals in the next phase where we get out into the ambulatory setting. We get out into the clinical practices and those other locations which are not the inpatient setting but still in the healthcare setting. It's important those people get vaccinated as well because the number of folks you can come in contact with, who can be asymptomatic but still spreading, is probably higher in some of those instances than it would be in a hospital where we're screening patients, we're screening visitors, we reduced visitation. 

 

More articles on workforce:
New Jersey may require hospitals to publicly report COVID-19 outbreaks among staff
UPMC adds hundreds of nurses, bed capacity amid COVID-19 surge
Keeping transport, environmental services staff safe: 14 COVID-19 strategies from Northwell Health

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