A Matter of Trust: Leveraging Short Codes to Bolster Vaccine Communication Efforts

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By Cliff Holsenbeck, Senior Director of Product at iconectiv

It’s been said throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that we’re all in the same storm, even if we’re not all in the same boat. For 96 percent of Americans, those very different boats all have one important thing in common – a mobile phone. When leveraged correctly, these mobile phones can execute a trustworthy and effective centralized communication that truly has everyone’s best interests at heart.

The Biden administration’s latest announcement that directed states to make every American adult eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by May 1 marks yet another milestone in the pandemic journey. After battling COVID-19 for more than a year—successfully adopting social distancing practices, navigating remote schooling, and working and developing vaccines at an unprecedented rate—the finish line may finally be in sight. As we move toward nationwide eligibility, the logistics of helping people schedule and confirm vaccination appointments will be crucial – as will the ability to make the processes efficient and trustworthy enough to put people at ease. Technology, and text messaging specifically, has risen to this challenge in the form of short code text messaging.

Short codes are five- or six-digit numbers that can be personalized to spell out an organization’s name or a relevant word and are being used to help consumers navigate the vaccination process. CVS, for example, uses short codes to confirm vaccination appointments and alert customers to check in for their appointments. 

Short codes are universally accessible on most networks and mobile devices and are simple to use thanks to the established relationship between the sender and recipient. Since the consumer must opt-in to receive information, messages sent via common short codes have very high open and response rates. For COVID-19 vaccinations, it is an easy way for consumers to get information about their appointments, next steps and any relevant information. 

Because short codes must be registered and are closely monitored, they’re an ideal option for providing communications and navigating the logistics of vaccine distribution for a number of reasons:

  • Unique identification via recipients’ mobile numbers
  • Ability to quickly reach anyone that has access to a cellphone and text messages
  • Reliable delivery
  • Very high open rate
  • Text messaging integration with websites, apps, and other digital communications channels

Across the country, text messaging has already been implemented as a tool by healthcare and other facilities throughout the pandemic for services like telehealth, virtual care, contact tracing, pre-screening questionnaires and sending updates to loved ones and caretakers. Even more specific to vaccines, text messaging has been used effectively in the past to raise awareness and drive vulnerable portions of the population to get vaccinated, dating as far back as the H1N1 flu outbreak a decade ago. 

As COVID-19 vaccination efforts continue to reach larger populations, short codes have made tangible impacts in keeping those efforts on track. For example, New York City implemented short codes as a resource tool at the beginning on the pandemic to educate residents on the latest developments regarding the outbreak. Residents could text ‘COVID’ to 692-692 and get real-time updates on testing sites, school closures and vaccine distribution.

In Florida, where short code notifications are already being used statewide, health care providers are using them to mitigate the challenge of signing people up for appointments and making sure they show up. Those who decline or don’t respond will still have their spot held in the system and will receive additional notifications once other appointments become available. In Oklahoma, residents have turned to utilizing a third-party alert system that sends texts and emails to recipients when new vaccine appointments are listed on the state health department’s official online portal.  

Communication technology has played a key role throughout the pandemic, helping people stay connected to everyday things like work, school and deliveries of food and other essential items. Now that those same technologies are being applied effectively to the vaccine distribution process, there is all the more hope for smoother seas ahead.

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