The Role of Digital Health Technology in Vaccine Distribution

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Nearly eleven months after the first American lockdowns for COVID-19, there’s a glimmer of hope for mitigation and resolution of the pandemic. As of November 24, five separate Phase 3 clinical trials are in progress or planned for COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.

Biotech company Moderna’s vaccine, which requires two doses, recently showed a 94.1% efficacy level overall and a 100% efficacy against severe disease. Meanwhile, Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine, also a two-dose candidate, received the first Emergency Use Authorization in the world for a vaccine meant to help fight the pandemic, after demonstrating a 95% efficacy.

But what happens when an eventual vaccine does make it to market? As with other vaccines, the public may have questions and concerns, or may simply not know how to pursue inoculation for themselves and their families. There will be controlled distribution of the vaccine and states may be directing which points of distribution will be eligible for the vaccine first. In addition, patients will require education about known severity of side effects and, for a number of the proposed vaccines, around the spaced, two-dose schedule.  

Luckily, digital health technology can support healthcare organizations in educating, reassuring, and encouraging vaccine compliance.

Let’s take a closer look.

Inform people

With the pandemic stretching on for nearly a year, there’s been plenty of time for misinformation and questions about the vaccine-development process. Simply put, many laypeople don’t know what to expect from an eventual vaccine. 

Therefore, in order to encourage the majority of Americans to be vaccinated, education will be important, but building trust in the science and safety of these vaccines will be key. But how to educate a public that is widespread, culturally diverse, fearful and uncertain? 

By providing a trusted source of information delivered straight to a personal device, digital health technology can help convey a widespread yet tailored message to a particular patient population. The shared information comes from trusted resources (such as HHS or the CDC) and is labeled as such. Measures like these mean more reassurance, more trust, and a wider ability to reach a diverse audience.

Change attitudes

Many have expressed concerns that development of the COVID-19 vaccines has been rushed and is unsafe. These fears, while not based in fact, need to be addressed before widespread vaccination can take place. In order to do this, digital care management software like GetWell Loop includes simple information on how vaccines are developed and work, to help people understand their function and necessity. Additionally, surfacing personal endorsements of desired behaviors from formal and informal leaders within the community provides necessary outreach to vulnerable populations that may share similar concerns. 

Digital vaccine care plans, like those found in GetWell Loop, can be used to create awareness around dosing, schedules, and expected side effects, and can help address safety concerns. This technology is designed to appeal to the most vulnerable populations, addressing what concerns them most, and sharing messages from trusted leaders within the community to help increase confidence.

Improve compliance

Most of the vaccines being trialed will require two injections, given 21-28 days apart. This is due to the fact that the population lacks an initial partial immunity to COVID-19, since the virus has never circulated among humans before (unlike various influenzas). 

A recent Washington Post article spelled out concerns around the multiple doses required by most coronavirus vaccines, saying that “two-dose coronavirus vaccine regimens will make it harder to inoculate America.” Why? 

There are a number of factors at play here, including:

  • The need to send multiple reminders using a variety of methods to return for a second dose
  • The impact of side effects from a first dose, which may make people feel hesitant to receive a second dose
  • Concerns about people receiving different doses from different pharmacies/providers or, worse, in different states, making it hard to track and ensure the inoculations were received correctly
  • The economic impact of patients having to take time to receive the vaccine and possibly missing work or school.

Digital care management tools can help vaccine recipients understand what side effects are expected, reducing unnecessary calls and burden on healthcare teams. In addition, digital reminders to return for the second injection may make people more likely to follow the necessary two-dose vaccine schedule, reducing vaccine waste. By setting expectations with patients up front, on what to expect and that a second dose is required, increased compliance is likely. 

Track side effects

In addition to educating and informing, digital health technology can help healthcare organizations collect information on the prevalence of side effects and a vaccine’s overall impact on specific populations.

Reassurance that side effects from a vaccine like this are normal and may last a few days may go a long way towards calming fears that something is “wrong.” However, for those vaccine recipients who do experience frequent or irregular side effects, digital health technology can give them a place to report these side effects and seek reassurance. By listing out common symptoms and providing alerting features that will flag their case if it needs to be escalated to the care team, digital care management tools like GetWell Loop can make patients feel like they’re being looked out for long after they leave the care setting.

The bottom line

Since the onset of the pandemic, digital health technology has been used to encourage the ongoing practice of social distancing, hand washing, and infection prevention measures. Now, with multiple vaccines nearing emergency authorization by the FDA, public health officials are aiming to vaccinate 60-70% of the population within months to stop the virus from spreading further. 

Using digital health technology to inform people about vaccine availability, allay fears about safety, bring them back for their second doses, and track the impact of side effects can assist in these goals, helping the population return to a more normal day-to-day-life.