Immunizing in a COVID-19 Environment: Best Practices
August 07, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us why vaccines are critical for reducing the spread of infectious diseases. Vaccines help us mitigate diseases, prevent severe illnesses, and reduce rates of hospitalization, morbidity, and mortality. Unfortunately, the pandemic has also introduced new challenges to our health care system that have resulted in a significant reduction in routine vaccination rates. And, although rates of routine childhood immunizations are starting to rebound as more states lift lockdown restrictions, the already low rates for adults are not bouncing back.
Vaccines matter for people of all ages. But they are especially important for older adults and those with chronic illnesses because they are at a greater risk of experiencing negative health consequences of vaccine preventable diseases. These are the same populations that are also particularly vulnerable to adverse health outcomes related to COVID-19. As flu season approaches and COVID-19 cases continue to rise, it is more important than ever to find strategies to increase immunization rates among adults. After all, although there is not a COVID-19 vaccine candidate yet, we do have the power to protect ourselves from other serious infectious diseases by receiving all recommended vaccinations. Not only are routine vaccinations critical for protecting ourselves and those around us, but they also will minimize burdens on the health care system, leaving greater capacity for providers to treat patients with COVID-19.
The Adult Vaccine Access Coalition hosted the second briefing in a series on “Immunizing in a COVID-19 Environment.” The briefing, moderated by L.J. Tan from the Immunization Action Coalition, featured a discussion on best practices for immunizing in the adult population, ways to vaccinate safely during an emergency pandemic, and legislative steps that can be taken now to prepare for the upcoming flu season and future COVID-19 vaccine. Panelists not only explained the importance of continuing to receive recommended immunizations during the pandemic, but they also offered examples of best practices related to vaccines that could be used to increase faltering immunization rates among adults.
Michele Roberts, MPH, MCHES the Assistant Secretary of the Prevention and Community Health Division at Washington State’s Department of Health, stressed the importance of making sure that immunizations are available and that all patients have access to them. She discussed how states are using communication and outreach campaigns targeting providers as well as patients, working with community partners, and supporting providers in order to help improve immunization coverage during the pandemic and prevent other outbreaks. Additionally, it is important that safety precautions, including following guidance on PPE, drive through clinics, etc., are followed to protect the people administering the vaccines and that there is messaging for families about what is being done to make receiving a vaccine safe.
Marisa Rowen, PharmD, CDE, a clinical pharmacist and the Associate Pharmacy Director of Advanced Practice Services at El Rio Health Center shared strategies they are implementing to make sure their patients are vaccinated. One example of this is the concept of “max packing.” This is when providers take care of any upcoming preventive or screening needs, including vaccinations, whenever the patient comes in for a visit regardless of the reason for that visit. They also offer vaccines to other family members that accompany a patient to their appointment and ensure that they can reach diverse communities by translating pamphlets and materials. She also recommended that we consider diversifying vaccination sites, including at workplaces to target essential employees and at grocery stores and other pharmacies to provide access to patients who do not feel comfortable entering a doctor’s office during the pandemic.
Serese Marotta, the Chief Operating Officer of Families Fighting Flu, spoke of the importance of sharing stories of families whose loved ones have had serious medical complications or died from the flu to help others understand the importance of vaccines. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, Serese emphasized the importance of making sure that people’s concerns and questions are addressed and that we are using creative ways to combat misinformation and to ensure patients understand that vaccinations protect not only themselves but also their families and communities. She also stressed that addressing safety concerns is critical for increasing vaccination uptake, and that messaging should communicate that vaccines are safe and that there are safe places where people can go to receive a vaccine.
Even with the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an opportunity to renew our commitment to vaccinating and to improve access to and utilization of vaccines for all. By following the best practices that providers, health departments, and advocacy groups around the country are using to continue to provide care to patients and by continuing to use and improve on existing immunization infrastructure, we can increase immunization rates among adults and ensure that more patients and communities are protected from vaccine preventable diseases.