The Importance of Effective Communication at Mass Vaccination Sites

As the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations has gathered pace, there has been a significant number of operational issues. These issues have resulted in people with appointments being turned away from mass vaccination sites, vaccinations going to waste because people with appointments haven´t shown up, and people being unsure whether they are eligible for the vaccine or not.

If you received a COVID-19 vaccination at the Pipkin Building in Memphis at your allotted time in January, you were one of the lucky ones. Reports of people with appointments waiting more than five hours beyond their allotted time were not uncommon, while many people with appointments were turned away after being told that the site had run out of vaccines due to queue jumpers.

Meanwhile, in Houston, a doctor was arrested and his employment terminated after he took an opened vial of COVID-19 vaccine from a vaccination site and administered the vaccine to eligible patients off-site. The charges were dropped after it became clear the vaccine was left over due to no-shows and it would have gone bad within six hours – rendering it unusable.

Also in January, the Governor of Mississippi announced vaccinations were available to all residents over the age of 75; but the day phone lines opened for residents to book appointments they also had to close due to a “monumental surge”. The health department has subsequently rolled back vaccinations until it has enough supply to cope with demand.

These issues aren´t unique. Around the country, where there are mass vaccinations, there is often mass confusion. Undoubtedly part of the problem has been a slower-than-anticipated distribution of vaccinations; but a failure to communicate when issues occur has left the impression local governments are doing a bad job - when they are doing the best they can with what´s available.LEARN MORE: Vaccine Distribution Solution

How Effective Communication Could Improve the Situation

While communicating to residents that long queues exist isn´t going to make the queues disappear, it will give those waiting in line realistic expectations for how long it may take until they reach the front of the queue. It might also dissuade people without appointments from turning up in the hope they can jump the queue so there is a fairer distribution of vaccine among those who most need it.

With regards to no-shows, one enterprising health board in the UK has set up a cancellation hotline so that people who are unable to attend their vaccination appointments can phone in and the appointment allocated to somebody else. While the hotline is not guaranteed to eliminate no-shows, it is likely less vaccines will be wasted due to being unrefrigerated for too long.

Eligibility criteria is probably the most confusing area of the COVID vaccination program; and, because of intermittent supplies, likely to change at short notice. Communication about eligibility criteria needs to keep on top of the shifting landscape to keep residents reliably informed about increased or decreased availability so they don´t form the wrong impression about the good work being done by local government health departments.

Solutions for Effective Communication at Vaccination Sites

One of the problems associated with the operational issues mentioned above is that those first in line to receive COVID-19 vaccinations – the elderly – don´t have the same knowledge of the Internet as younger generations do. Therefore, they are less likely to know if a long queue at a vaccination site is trending on Twitter, if a vaccination appointment becomes available online, or if the eligibility criteria to receive a vaccine change overnight.

However - according to Pew Research – 91% of residents over the age of 65 own a cellphone capable of receiving an SMS text. Therefore, to address the communication issue, local governments should implement SMS-based mass communication systems at vaccination sites. Residents should be encouraged to opt in to the system when making an appointment (i.e., text “vaccine” to 123456) in order to receive information about delays, vaccine shortages, or changes to eligibility criteria.

Once people with appointments have opted in to the SMS-based mass communication system, local government health departments can send a mass polling text on the morning of the appointment asking recipients to confirm their attendance. Polling texts have a Q and A format which recipients respond to by pressing a key on their cellphones; and – by analyzing the responses - health officials will be able to determine potential no shows. For example:

Q: Please indicate whether you will be able to attend your COVID-19 vaccination appointment today-

  • Press #1 for I will be there at my allotted time.
  • Press #2 for I am unable to attend today due to ill health.
  • Press #3 for I am unable to attend due to transportation issues.
  • Press #4 for I will not be attending due to a change of heart.
  • Press #5 for I will not be attending for another reason.

The responses to the mass polling text are collated on a single pane dashboard so health officials can identify who needs to be reappointed, who needs help with transportation, and who can be taken off the list to reduce the strain on the schedule when the time comes around for the second vaccination. The same dashboard could be used to prioritize cancellations for those who were unable to attend an initial appointment due to ill health or transportation issues.

See the Theory Work in Practice with a Free Demo

Learn how you can build trust within your community, determine vaccine prioritization, provide ongoing communication, and monitor follow-up with the Rave Vaccine Distribution Solution. The Rave platform can help you coordinate and communicate vaccine distribution plans based on community priorities.

Our team will be happy to organize the demo tailored to your specific requirements, explain how the process works and how easy it is to set up. We´ll also be able to answer any questions you have about alternate uses for the Rave platform in the area of public safety – including planning and collaborating with other emergency response agencies during a public emergency. Contact us today to find out more


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Terri Mock
Terri Mock

Terri Mock is Rave's Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, overseeing strategy, product, and marketing. She is an executive leader with achievements in delivering revenue growth, driving go-to-market, innovating products, and scaling operations from high-tech startups to global companies.

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