Vaccine on campus: Now what?
Were William Shakespeare alive today, he might posit “to trace or not to trace— that is the question”.
In a year marked by the pernicious consequences of the pandemic, the good news is that the COVID-19 vaccine is finally rolling out. Logistical glitches have delayed some deliveries, yet the nation is now on the long road to vaccination.
We are living in a race where we wonder what will get to us first, the virus or the vaccine. The estimated dates of vaccine roll-out matter.
Some who think their vaccination is only a month or two away may be more willing to defer family or social gatherings because it feels like “the end is in sight” and they can see “the light at the end of the tunnel.” For those suffering from pandemic mental fatigue, postponing visits to family and friends is no longer an acceptable option.
Next tasks in the new normal
The flow of initial vaccines has already arrived at university hospitals and medical schools. University of Texas Austin Medical Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Amy Young put it this way: “I didn’t expect to get the vaccine so soon, frankly. It’s just about agility right now and we may not get our vaccine until later, but we’ll be ready for it whenever we get it.”
After caring for thousands of patients battling COVID-19, SUNY Stony Brook University Hospital has begun vaccinating hospital workers with the highest risk of exposure. Kisa King, a Stony Brook medical resident reported: “I am so excited and thankful to be a part of the solution. Not only does this mean that I can continue delivering care to my patients, but it also means I am providing protection to my family, friends and community.”
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To bridge the looming vaccination gap, the University of Massachusetts Medical School editorialized for the creation of a COVID-19 Vaccine Corps among its students and graduates—read, as the Peace Corps of Vaccines and Immunization.
As higher education peers over the horizon of the post-pandemic, the next tasks in the new normal are distribution, patient flow, contact tracing, tracking, documentation, and compliance. As to whether the vaccine will be mandatory, federal, state and municipal agencies will promulgate and hopefully coordinate final regulatory requirements and time schedules.
‘We strongly urge you to get vaccinated’
The governor of Texas indicated the state is prepared to swiftly distribute the COVID vaccine to those who voluntarily choose to be immunized. New Hampshire’s governor signed an executive order requiring everyone who receives a COVID-19 vaccine to have their immunizations registered with the state.
In November 2020, the University of Tennessee’s trustees gave the school’s resident authority to mandate the COVID vaccine. University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel indicated that his institution has no plans to mandate the vaccine and that no decisions have been made on vaccine requirements.
That said, campuses can encourage students, family and staff to be vaccinated and report their vaccination to the university. This reporting function raises the importance of tracking and contact tracing in the vaccine rollout.
Vaccine precedent and past practice
Perhaps the importance of tracking vaccine distribution is best embodied in the viewpoint of North Dakota’s immunization manager. “When Molly Howell talks about the two-shot regimen needed to vaccinate residents of North Dakota’s 210 long-term-care facilities against the coronavirus, she sounds like a general mobilizing a massive airlift without knowing how many planes she will have.”
At the 30,000-foot level, Colonel R.J. Mikesh, information technology lead for Operation Warp Speed put it thus: “It’s taken… a Herculean effort across all these different spaces to come together and make sure these systems are connected, tested, data-verified.”
Even if the vaccine is not mandated, a vaccine passport may become the coin of the realm for airplane travel and for attendance at large-scale events such as concerts, athletics, and professional sports games.
As millions of college students return to campus after nearly a year away, they rely on the public health policies, protocols, and practices of the university to protect students and workforce on campus.
For schools, colleges, and universities, vaccine precedent and past practice will likely play a role in the timeline on their responsibilities in the new regulatory process.
Tracking vaccinations can be a complicated and perplexing matter given the need to document the number of vaccines given vs. the number of patients needing immunizations.
For all institutions, vaccine tracking and tracing must comply with confidentiality of health information, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Act (HITECH); and “protected health information” (PHI).
For the same reason, mobile immunization tracking must be protected from hacking or other data alteration.
On a system-wide level, hospitals, clinics, and group practices subscribe to EHR systems that integrate mobile immunization tracking and management for patients and employees. Most schools, colleges, and universities deploy electronic consent, vaccine tracking, real-time access to vaccine data, and compliance monitoring and reporting.
Outmoded though it may seem, some employee health departments still use paper records and manual processing of data, slowing data capture while increasing the likelihood of errors in record management—and squandering valuable support staff time and effort.
“The challenge is ensuring (the data management systems will) all work in concert once the vaccine becomes widely available” noted Rebecca Coyle, executive director of the American Immunization Registry Association.
Nimbleness and responsiveness
In our product review search, we learned more about the nimbleness and responsiveness of new vaccine information and data systems. Through this exploration, we discovered Agility, Net Health’s new mobile immunization tracking system.
The genesis of this COVID-19 system grew out of pre-COVID Net Health occupational, medical inoculation information systems. Agility can be used to accelerate administration, documentation, automation, compliance and mobility in vaccination tracking, while protecting patient safety and privacy.
By design, this vaccine tracking system is laptop, tablet, and mobile ready to update and confirm vaccine reminders, alerts, and appointments.
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Greg Freeman, regional manager of occupational health and wellness for the University of Vermont Health Network/Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital reports: “I did a really deep review before I chose Agility in 2014. It just seemed like Agility was a step ahead. We have had other programs that didn’t meet our needs that created double the work. When we found Agility, it really did work for us.”
President Joe Biden has already announced that he will not mandate the vaccine, but “will do everything in my power as president to encourage people to do the right thing.”
Early on, Congress will take up its deliberative public health policy role in promulgating statutory requirements, triggers, and milestones to be implemented by federal and state public health agencies.
James E. Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance and senior partner in the law firm of Samels Associates, Attorneys at Law. Arlene Lieberman is senior consultant of The Education Alliance and senior associate, Samels Associates, Attorneys at Law. Paola Gutierrez, Alliance research fellow, contributed to this article.