• Innovation in Action

Jun 30, 2021

Community Coordination and Frequent Messaging Key to COVID-19 Vaccinations in Rural Missouri Region

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A Missouri hospital teamed with their local health department to leverage technology in the fight against COVID-19. Together, they contacted over 2,000 people every week through emails and text messages to announce when and where vaccinations were available.

From the outbreak of the pandemic, Harrison County Community Hospital established itself as a go-to resource for testing and spreading information about COVID-19. In January 2021, they were certified as a COVID-19 vaccination site, which built upon the trust they had already created within the region. They announced vaccination events on the hospital’s website, Facebook page and sent weekly emails and text messaging to the community, including patients, businesses, and their own staff.

They created a COVID-19 hotline to field questions about the virus and answer questions about upcoming vaccination clinics. The hospital also purchased airtime on area radio stations and advertised in local newspapers to reach additional segments of the population.

“A lot of older adults in this area are connected with radio and local news so that was an important way to reach them,” said Lisa McGhee, Infection Control Nurse at Harrison County Community Hospital.

Collaboration with the local health department intensified to a higher level once they were both certified to deliver COVID-19 vaccinations. They coordinated through a shared calendar to stagger days when each was offering vaccines to maximize opportunities for community members to be vaccinated.

“[Harrison County Community Hospital] has the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines and the health department has the Pfizer vaccine, which allowed us to accommodate someone if they had a preference for which one they wanted,” said Amy Pickren, Chief Clinical Officer/CNO of Harrison County Community Hospital.

The hospital and health department also combined personnel resources to increase vaccinations within the community.

“In one clinic alone, we administered about 2,400 vaccinations,” McGhee said. “We already had a good relationship with the health department, but COVID-19 made us realize what a benefit it was to work together. We needed them and they needed us. It worked beautifully.”

The collaborative mass vaccination effort extended beyond clinics. The hospital coordinated with nursing homes to offer shots. Pickren said nursing homes in the area had contracted with pharmacies to administer vaccines, but they were lucky to see them once a month. A team would take available vaccines to nursing homes and group homes to inoculate residents and staff.

Mass Vaccinations Are Over – Now, Education is Key

There was a rush of people seeking COVID-19 vaccines when it initially became available. Then, there was a smaller but still steady stream of people asking for the vaccine. Now, the pace has slowed even more, and the hospital and health department are spreading education to area residents who may be hesitant. The vaccine hesitancy concerns they hear sound similar to what people have expressed in other regions of the United States.

“I think the majority of those who are hesitant here thought it was rushed to market with inadequate testing,” McGhee said. “They may not understand the safety process that the vaccines went through to be approved. Others are also a little leery of what the government tells them.”

One older adult in Harrison County who is a high-risk pulmonary patient confided in her doctor that she wanted to receive the vaccine, but she initially refused it because her church told her it was wrong. “She asked us to give her the vaccine but not to tell other members of her church,” McGhee said.

The hospital’s messaging to the community now focuses on spikes of positive COVID-19 cases in regions of the state. They are also warning people about the danger of virus variants that have developed because they can spread much faster. While the initial success of mass vaccinations has trickled off, the message is still hitting the mark eventually.

“We had an 84-year-old man and his 81-year-old wife who recently made an appointment with us to be vaccinated,” McGhee said. “They kept putting it off but finally decided to do it because they realized this virus is not going away.”