Setting the Right Course for Vaccination Success

Health systems like Johns Hopkins Medicine are demonstrating that by bringing together the right partners, proactively getting information to communities and meeting people where they are, we can build trust, create confidence and save lives.

two women wearing masks at Hopkins vaccination event

Photo Credit: Johns Hopkins

At Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland, the first doses of the vaccine arrived the same week COVID-19 infections and deaths reached a record high in the state and across the country. On December 16, 2020, at 7:30 a.m., occupational therapist Kelly Casey got a history-making shot in her left arm as the first Johns Hopkins staff member to be vaccinated.

Since then, leaders and front-line staff at the Baltimore-based health system have rolled up their sleeves to get COVID-19 vaccinations to people as efficiently as possible and alleviate fears.

The Approach

Administering the first round of vaccines to hospital staff protected front-line workers and their patients. It gave the Johns Hopkins teams responsible for storing, packing, transporting and administering the vaccine the opportunity to practice and refine the intricate processes they spent months designing. And it helped the teams ensure equitably based allocation, maximum safety and efficiency before rolling it out across the communities they serve in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Florida.

As Johns Hopkins began receiving vaccine doses to be allocated to the public across all of its locations — a few thousand doses here, a few thousand there — the process was essentially ad hoc. The health system’s team met regularly with government agencies, community groups and other hospitals to maximize coordination, share resources and problem solve.

To help operationalize the process, they created cohorts of different people and venues. And they tapped into their electronic medical record technology to support coordination and distribution efforts.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made underlying health disparities more apparent. Mindful of this challenge, Johns Hopkins Medicine has mobilized a multidisciplinary task force specifically focused on vaccine distribution, with equity and inclusion built into its foundation.

“We are seeing heartbreaking disparities in COVID in our community,” said Katie O’Conor, M.D., co-chair of vaccine equity at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Activities and Events

To address these disparities, initiatives have been launched to reach specific neighborhoods, such as a partnership between Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, MedStar Health and LifeBridge Health on a mobile vaccination and outreach strategy targeting older adults in Baltimore City.

Addressing barriers to vaccine access. At Centro SOL, a health and community center for Latinos and immigrants, Johns Hopkins physician and director Kathleen Page, M.D., conducted focus groups with low-income, Spanish-speaking immigrants and a survey of Bayview Medical Center patients to identify barriers to vaccine access and hesitancy. She’s also been appearing on Facebook Live sessions and virtual town halls with evangelical congregations, presented in Spanish. And Page has been leading the effort to stand up regular vaccine clinics at a local church in Baltimore to ensure Latino residents and the surrounding church community have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Her message: The vaccine is safe, free and effective, and immigration status has no impact on people being able to get the vaccine.

Page reports seeing the same barriers that she saw with access to COVID-19 testing: language, navigation of the health system, the digital divide and the required documents.

“Even if they are in the right essential worker category, they may be working in very informal situations,” Page told the Baltimore Sun. “They may not have a letter from an employer. They may not even have an ID. Getting to places can be an issue with transportation; having to make appointments ahead of time when your work is irregular can be hard.”

Communications and outreach. To address public concern about safety and access, Johns Hopkins created a digital information hub to keep people informed, encouraged and engaged. It features regular vaccine supply updates, registration links, a vaccine tracker to show progress — nationally and internationally — and advice on what to do once a person is vaccinated. The health system also created a dashboard to help people with a disability determine when they qualify for shots.

Johns Hopkins University launched a “COVID-19 Vaccine Matters” blog series to share the evolving science and policy of the vaccines, led by internationally renowned experts in vaccine development, Larry Corey, M.D., of the University of Washington, and Chris Beyrer, M.D.

A series of brief reports shed light on COVID-19 vaccine development, allocation and deployment. Topics include ensuring the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, principles for vaccine allocation, strategies for deployment and delivery of the vaccines, vaccine confidence and demand, and the economics of COVID-19 vaccines.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health launched a social media campaign, the #VaccinesWork challenge, to encourage people to tweet about the importance of vaccines. For every like or share of social media posts using the hashtag #VaccinesWork in April, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will contribute $1 to UNICEF, up to $1 million total. In addition, the school’s Center for Communications developed a vaccine education campaign called “Get the Facts About the Vax,” aimed at providing staff and the community with accurate information to make an informed decision about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Lessons Learned

As the largest vaccine rollout in history is underway, it has not been without its challenges. Yet health systems like Johns Hopkins Medicine are demonstrating that by bringing together the right partners, proactively getting information to communities and meeting people where they are, we can build trust, create confidence and save lives.