Health plans can play a critical role in expanding access to COVID-19 vaccinations. COVID-19 vaccines are available through a variety of locations, including mass vaccination sites, provider offices, local pharmacies, and community sites. Health plans are well-positioned to engage directly with members to understand barriers to access and support members in understanding key facts about the COVID-19 vaccine and making vaccination appointments. To further reduce barriers to COVID-19 vaccination access, some health plans that serve individuals dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid have begun to host their own vaccination clinics, often in partnership with community organizations. While health plans may not have direct access to COVID-19 vaccines, health plans can work with partners who do have access to COVID-19 vaccines to expand availability.
Health plans have expanded access to COVID-19 vaccinations through hosting vaccination clinics using the following strategies:
- Partner with the public health department. Public health departments are important partners in planning vaccination events and in ensuring that health plans have access to a sufficient quantity of vaccine to support a vaccination clinic. Some plans are working with local health departments to directly administer vaccines on-site. Coordination with public health authorities is also critical in the event an on-site vaccine clinic runs low on vaccine (e.g., partnering to secure member appointments at other local vaccination clinics if needed). Plans can also engage with state and local emergency preparedness programs for any needed support around site set-up, volunteer coordination, and inventory management.
- Select an appropriate location. Ensure that the location of the vaccination clinic will meet any identified access gaps in the community and that it includes accessible bathrooms, waiting areas, and entry/exit points. Additionally, make sure the location has the ability to maintain proper cold storage for vaccines, as appropriate. Determine which type of clinic – walk-in, curbside, drive-through, or other – would best support equitable access to vaccines for communities that may have lower rates of vaccination.
- Staff clinics with the needs of the target population in mind. Provide interpreters in the anticipated non-English languages prevalent in the area as well as American Sign Language. Consider working with community organizations that may employ individuals who communicate in target languages. Additionally, ensure staff with experience working with older adults and people with disability are available on each shift.
- Promote vaccination clinics. Alerting members to the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations is critical. Some plans have utilized texting to communicate the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, and the availability of vaccines at their on-site clinic. Plans may also conduct targeted outreach to specific areas, demographics, and locations to support vaccination efforts. Additionally, plans may partner with community-based organizations (CBOs) to promote vaccination clinics and encourage community members to attend.
- Assess for potential access barriers. Determine what barriers members face in obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination, including potential transportation needs. Plans are leveraging transportation benefits to provide rides to vaccinations clinics to all members, regardless of previously identified transportation needs. Consider collaborating with organizations that provide transportation services to people who have difficulty leaving their homes.
- Provide proactive vaccine education. Prior to the vaccination clinic, connect with members to provide education on vaccine efficacy and availability, including information dispelling vaccine myths. In addition to conducting vaccine education calls prior to clinics, some plans are conducting follow-up calls after members’ first dose (for two-shot vaccines) to encourage them to receive the second dose, as well as providing education after the second dose around potential side effects.
- Supply volunteers to other vaccination sites. If a health plan is not able to host a vaccination clinic on-site, they may support vaccination clinics elsewhere. Some health plans are training staff volunteers from their organization to help support administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, in both clinical and non-clinical capacities. Potential services provided by volunteers could include traffic control at mass vaccination sites and assisting members in setting up second dose appointments.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has additional guidance around planning vaccination clinics held at satellite, temporary, or off-site locations, available here.