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The Four Biggest Challenges Providers Face in Vaccine Distribution

Lacey Jackson
March 17, 2021
Min Read

Today, the global healthcare system is facing the biggest vaccination effort in history, and it is certainly not without its challenges. Many frontline workers and priority populations have already received their first doses, and state governments are starting to extend vaccinations to a wider range of people. 

But we’re receiving daily news alerts detailing speed bumps along the way; vaccines remaining unused or expiring, deployment to at-risk groups has been slower than expected, and ineligible patients have been able to cut the line to receive the vaccine. 

It's clear that this is one of the largest medical undertakings in U.S. history, so let’s look at the four primary issues facing providers as they tackle COVID-19. 

1. Streamlining Appointment Registration

The first challenge facing providers in the fight against COVID-19 is simply getting people in for appointments. If you’ve attempted to sign yourself or a family member up for an appointment, you probably encountered a pretty frustrating process. With lots of competition for appointments and limited supply, registration websites crash, appointments are gone as soon as they open up, and it’s nearly impossible for people without easy access to an internet-connected device to sign up. 

In his article, How to Fix the Mess of COVID-19 Vaccine Appointment Scheduling, Dr. Tinglong Dai proposes a system by which citizens do not need to actively sign up for vaccine appointments. Instead, patients would pre-register and be notified when they become eligible for an appointment via text message. 

This registration model is used by Israel, which currently leads the world in COVID-19 vaccinations. The preregistration system eases panic around vaccinations and prevents the issues that arise when many people anxiously register at once. 

Register Today: Dr. Tinglong Dai will be a member of our panel, COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Roundtable: Lessons From the Frontlines on March 25th at 12:00 ET. Register today to join the discussion! 

2. Ensuring Equitable Distribution 

Reporting has shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. Economic disparities that made COVID-19 testing difficult, such as access to transportation and the internet will translate to vaccination efforts. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the inequities across the U.S. healthcare system. It is becoming more and more clear that digital access is linked to health outcomes. During a crisis, being unable to access the internet or understand digital spaces leads to health inequities in disadvantaged communities. 

In order to reach a wide population, we’ll need to get creative. 

Research from 2018 shows that while internet access may be spotty, 96% of Americans own a cell phone of some kind. Utilizing SMS text messaging to register citizens for vaccinations or to let a curated list of patient’s know when an appointment becomes available can extend a provider’s reach into the community. 

Optimizing the resources of social work organizations, such as homeless shelters and food banks, could provide additional opportunities to register vulnerable populations for vaccinations. Putting these systems in place now could also provide additional opportunities to provide better quality care and support to these populations in the future. 

Build Your Own: Check out this Formstack Builders tutorial where we walk through how to launch a COVID-19 vaccine distribution workflow with the Formstack platform

3. Using Vaccines Before Expiration Date 

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine created a framework for the equitable allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine. In this framework, they recommended prioritizing high-risk healthcare workers, first responders, people with two or more underlying medical conditions, and older adults in long-term care facilities. But another major issue arises when distributing vaccines in areas that do not have enough demand or enough people who qualify to receive the vaccine. 

With a sensitive vaccine that needs to be kept at a certain temperature, it's not shocking that we’ve seen many cases of doses going bad or being tossed in the trash. It makes sense that in these cases, health care providers are choosing to give out vaccinations to patients who technically don’t qualify. But this isn’t the case across the board. In fact, there has been reporting that healthcare providers have been hesitant to report waste for fear of retribution. 

There are many reasons to rollout vaccines in phases, most notably because it helps ensure there is enough vaccine supply to meet demand. But the extreme variety in vaccination strategies at both the state and local levels have shown a much different reality. 

The Fishers Health Department circulated a vaccine interest survey where they allowed citizens to sign up to be notified if an appointment for vaccination opens up. Other Indiana counties have provided a registration phone number where anyone interested in signing up for a vaccination spot can call, provide their name, address, date of birth, and other information to be added to a priority list.  

Learn More: Fishers Health Department Public Health Director, Monica Heltz, will be sharing her insights on COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts in our March 25th healthcare roundtable. Register today! 

4. Reminding Patients about Second Appointments 

While an initial dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has shown to be highly effective in preventing infections, to solidify immunological memory, a second dose is required. But ensuring patients return for a follow-up vaccination is a struggle. Many patients are falling through the cracks created by increasingly complex provider appointment systems. At the end of January, nearly 23 million Americans had received their first vaccine and almost five million had their second. 

To support patients in receiving their second doses, a robust vaccination reminder system is required. Formstack partner Coastal Cloud created an easy-to-use, technical solution that helps government organizations efficiently manage the vaccine process, including follow-up vaccinations. Their system, Care4COVID, uses connected call-centers and mobile-friendly self-registration to allow citizens to schedule appointments from home. Once on-site, patients check in with a QR code which allows for rapid vaccinations, with some sites showing daily averages as low as five minutes per vaccine appointment time. This system supports: 

  • Citizen Portal 
  • Vaccination Appointment Scheduling
  • Vaccine Management
  • Inventory Management

Get the Full Story: Doug Havron of Coastal Cloud will be participating on our March 25 healthcare roundtable. Register for the event to learn more about how Coastal Cloud is using technology to address COVID-19. 

Staying Ahead of COVID-19 

The US healthcare system was clearly underprepared for the massive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As new, more virulent strains of COVID-19 arise, providers are feeling the urgency around the vaccination process. And, as we open up vaccinations to a wider population, our current challenges will worsen if left unaddressed. However, if we manage to build systems that remedy our current issues, we may find ourselves better prepared for an uncertain future. 

We’ve gathered public health officials, hospital representatives, and health IT experts to share insights on how technology is being leveraged to streamline COVID-19 vaccine distribution. 

Join us as we learn these healthcare experts are using technology to tackle the current health crisis. 


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Lacey Jackson
Lacey is a Product Marketing Manager at Formstack who is dedicated to creating content that showcases the power of the Formstack Platform. When she’s not creating Formstack Builders tutorials, she can be found reading, playing board games, or strolling with her dog. Lacey is a graduate of Franklin College.
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