The Role of Emergency Management in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

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Senior woman receiving covid vaccine

Photo credit: Depositphotos

By Scott Cormier, VP of Emergency Management, Environment of Care and Safety at Medxcel 

It’s here. Thanks to the tireless work of dedicated scientists with Pfizer, Moderna and many others, we now have a vaccine that is about 95% effective in protecting us against COVID-19. So far, 18.4 million shots have been given in the U.S. (about 4.5% of the population), the majority administered to frontline workers and vulnerable elderly populations. While we’ll still have “social distancing” in our vernacular for some time, the COVID-19 vaccine is a medical breakthrough and a crucial step in the right direction to end the pandemic. 

So… now what? 

As healthcare facility teams learned during the H1N1 outbreak of 2009, the virus would be combatted with the urgent rollout of a vaccine. Similarly to H1N1, the biggest challenge would be logistics. Many healthcare facilities, hospitals and pharmacies were left to wonder: How will we receive and distribute the vaccine? How will we reassure the public of its safety and effectiveness? How can we build a proper plan and adhere to it? Answering these questions is no easy task, but with emergency management, the answers are within reach.

Implementing emergency management. 

Having a well-established emergency management (EM) team lays the foundation for successfully addressing any unexpected crises. Emergency is a multi-disciplinary effort, and an EM team’s strength is in the ability to help a facility through coordinating responses, following procedures and maintaining safety. Over the next few months as we gear up to a nationwide rollout of the vaccine, EM teams will be crucial in establishing and delivering distribution plans – in addition to keeping an eye on the horizon to prepare for the next potential global outbreak.

Emergency management also involves the relationships built at the local, state and national level. Being a trusted partner of the federal government allows for communication about boots-on-the-ground happenings or severe complications that need to be shared quickly with a national body. Those that implement EM in their facility improve their overall environment and will be more prepared to serve their patients and community in the long run. 

Establishing a diverse team.   

Additionally, the EM team should designate an additional group of experts to tackle problems within the facility and the vaccination plan. With this team, members can prepare guidance and navigate communication channels as they act as a liaison between the EM team, patients and staff. It’s important to gather top experts in a variety of fields – operations, technology, energy, facilities management and more – to ensure all bases are covered.  

Working in a variety of fields means the experts will be able to monitor facilities’ activity and adapt quickly to any situation in real time. This diverse team can collaborate and create solutions for what facilities can do to adjust processes and programs should the need arise during vaccine distribution. 

Building a vaccination plan. 

As vaccine trials progressed and were ultimately approved, healthcare facility service providers and EM teams were able to put together step-by-step plans on what a COVID vaccination plan would look like. For example, vaccine distribution plans should feature the following checklists: 

  • Messaging: Control the conversation by utilizing a single, expert source (such as the CDC or WHO) to guide your messaging to patients about the safety and security of receiving a vaccine.  
  • Retrieval: Know the date/time the vaccine is to be received, number of doses, how often it will be received throughout the month, and identify the authorized deliverer. 
  • Storage: Develop and maintain ultra-cold storage for the vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius – colder than the winter in Antarctica. This type of storage is typical in research hospitals and labs, but often not available in suburban hospitals or independent pharmacies. Many healthcare facilities will need to procure special storage to keep the virus cold enough to be viable. 
  • Accessories: Wipes, alcohol, gloves, hand sanitizer, proper PPE, vaccine record cards, biological waste disposal containers and more that will be required to administer the virus. 
  • Government involvement: With the new administration’s 100 million vaccinations in 100 days initiative, healthcare facilities need to maintain relationships at the national level and be attune to sudden changes in federal mandates. 
  • Vaccine reactions: It’s possible that someone may have a reaction to the vaccine, and the clinic must be prepared to tackle any related issues. Require medical personnel to wait in a waiting room with patients who have recently received the vaccine to provide help if needed. 

Executing a high distribution of the vaccine is possible with a solid plan and finalized process in place, built upon the foundation of a strong emergency management and safety program. With a structure in place, frontline workers are able to focus on the influx of patients while the operation center can focus on logistics, compliance and guidance. 

As this new year continues, even with the newest variant of the virus, we hope to see vaccines and immunity increase while the number of COVID deaths, cases and the overall spread decreases. One year ago, only a few cases were in the United States. Today, COVID-19 has infected 24.6 million Americans and left 400,000 dead. This vaccine helps us to remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

Stopping the spread can only work when we do it together. Distributing a vaccine can only work when we have a plan. 

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 About the Author

Scott Cormier is the Vice President of Emergency Management, Environment of Care (EOC) and Safety at Medxcel, specializing in facilities management, safety, environment of care, and emergency management and provides healthcare service support products and drives in-house capabilities, saving and efficiencies for healthcare organizations that, in turn, improve the overall healing environment for patients and staff. Cormier leads the development and implementation of emergency management, general safety and accident-prevention programs for a national network of hospitals that Medxcel serves. 

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