We’ve all heard the stories about someone traveling hundreds, or even thousands, of miles to get the COVID-19 vaccine in recent weeks. Yet, experts predict that after everyone who wants a vaccine receives one, we’ll still be short of the nationwide herd immunity necessary to control the pandemic. At that point, the supply of available vaccine doses will start exceeding people’s demand for vaccination. What happens then?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), herd immunity is the point at which enough people in a community are protected from getting a disease because they’ve already been infected or because they’ve been vaccinated. And while the definitive number needed to reach that point is still unknown, experts agree it will need to be at least 80 percent—the same percentage that eradicated both polio and smallpox from the U.S.
Closing the gap and reaching herd immunity will require a proactive approach to identifying and locating unvaccinated individuals and administering the vaccine to those who may not have had access earlier in the process. Health information networks (HINs) like Hixny are perfectly positioned to drive this effort. Not only do we have access to vaccination data and individual health records—including comorbidities and social determinants of health—but we also have the capacity to compare this data and make it useful to those administering the vaccine.
HINs can start by providing aggregate data to our public health departments—something I’m proud to say Hixny is doing. The public health officials can use HIN-provided data to identify geographic areas where disproportionately large numbers of residents have not been vaccinated. An unfortunate fact we’re coming to understand is that those with the means to get the vaccine (e.g., their own transportation, unrestricted access to an internet-connected computer, etc.) are receiving it, while those without the means are not receiving it—and a lot of this is dependent upon location, both in urban and rural areas where resources are limited.
In addition, HINs can provide vaccination information to individual providers in an easy-to-consume way. Making vaccine data available and easy to find in a patient’s record will allow providers to quickly identify which of their patients are still unvaccinated or which ones are overdue for their second dose. Providers can then use that information to reach out to their patients and schedule in-person visits to answer questions and administer shots.
There are also opportunities for HINs to get involved and lend expertise within local communities, and I encourage you to look for these. For example, I recently sat in on the meeting of a new task force in Albany that is bringing together community-based organizations, trusted city residents, local officials and health professionals to explore how we can pool our resources to improve vaccination numbers in underserved communities.
At the end of the day, our goal as HINs should be to help health professionals identify those patients who are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19. In doing so, when vaccine supplies begin to exceed demand, there will be an established path to increase vaccination numbers and achieve herd immunity.