Local authorities and public health officials have had to think of new approaches to provide equitable and convenient access to vaccinations in the nation’s race to vaccinate citizens and develop herd immunity against COVID-19.
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In certain cases, this has included establishing vaccine clinics aimed primarily at seniors, who have seen the highest rates of hospitalization and mortality since the pandemic.
In underserved areas, mobile clinics have sprung up, removing the requirement for online pre-registration or travel in locations with poor access to infrastructure and transportation.
Local health authorities have adopted a cultural approach, opening 24-hour clinics and visiting vaccine-skeptics in their homes.
Following are some of the most effective strategies used by local health authorities to increase vaccine access:
Vaccination clinics for seniors only
In San Marcos, California, it became clear immediately that vaccination eligibility did not imply vaccine access, according to Tim Lash, president of the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center.
The Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center partnered with the county of San Diego, as well as a number of municipal, research, healthcare, and philanthropic groups, to launch a senior-focused vaccine site.
The site assisted seniors in arranging appointments by offering a phone-based scheduling alternative. The public-private partnership also offered vaccination education to seniors, as well as transportation to and from the site and accommodations for all stages of function and mobility.
Mobile vaccination centers that accept walk-ins
In collaboration with the Southern California Eye Institute (SCEI), the CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center opened walk-in mobile clinics in Los Angeles. The goal of these mobile clinics is to reach out to underserved populations that lack access to medical care, transport, and the infrastructure required to schedule an appointment.
Walk-up onsite registration is available at the site, removing the need for people to make an appointment electronically by mobile or computer. The mobile clinic came to existence after SCEI offered to turn their mobile eye clinic bus into a vaccine site on wheels.
Seeking a cultural strategy
Vaccines were distributed to the Navajo Nation by Project HOPE, a public health and humanitarian relief agency, in collaboration with Indian Health Services (IHS).
Vaccination sites were established in hospitals and clinics, as well as group meeting places such as chapter houses.
When it came to communicating the importance of vaccines, IHS brought forward a cultural approach, “placing the battle against the pandemic and having the vaccine as something which everybody can do to protect their friends and neighbors.”
Personal protective devices, physical distancing, and vaccines were all positioned in such a way that everybody in the tribe could help, particularly the elders, who were at higher risk of COVID-19 complications.
Changing the hours of operation of vaccine sites
Many individuals find it impossible to schedule vaccination visits within normal operating hours. Vaccine centers with overnight hours have been established up around the country to accommodate patients who work and live outside of normal hours.
A pop-up 24/7 marathon clinic organized by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium in Philadelphia was a massive success, with over 4,000 people vaccinated in the first 24 hours. The objective of the project was to increase vaccine equity and target populations that were disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Vaccines brought to people’s homes
To make the vaccines more available, some health officials are taking it directly to people’s homes.
There are programs that provide the vaccine to seniors who are unable to get to a vaccination center. There are also services in which volunteers visit underserved neighborhoods and places with low vaccination rates to discuss vaccinations with people.