As 2021 dawned and vaccine distribution has picked up, many people had one overarching question on their minds: how and when will they get vaccinated.
At the same time, providers have had to grapple with another question: how to best approach for this historic, monumental task.
For Stamford Health in Connecticut, the way forward was clear: Leverage existing partnerships with the city of Stamford, community organizations and the state to distribute the much-anticipated vaccines.
The health system has been sharing data and information with the city of Stamford throughout the pandemic, including positivity rates, hospitalizations and other key metrics, said Kathleen Silard, CEO of Stamford Health, in a phone interview. Stamford Health and the city worked collaboratively to set up testing sites, and in the last few months, they also worked together to set up vaccination sites — including one at an old hospital on Stamford Health’s campus.
“The collaboration [with the city] really is to pool our resources, because we know, together we are better,” Silard said.
The health system began vaccinating healthcare workers, first responders and other eligible essential workers on Dec. 17, when the state was in Phase 1a of its vaccine rollout. Back on Jan. 18, it began vaccinating people older than 75 and recently added those older than 65 to the list, as part of Phase 1b of the rollout.
So far, the health system has administered around 27,000 vaccines, and is averaging between 750 and 930 doses a day, Silard said. But Stamford Health has ambitious plans to increase this number three-fold.
The health system is planning to open a new, much larger, site around March 1, which will enable the provider to administer up to 3,000 doses a day, she said.
But getting shots in people’s arms is not without its challenges.
Vaccine availability has been one of the biggest hurdles the health system has faced, but working closely with Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and his team has helped the system get the doses and resources it needs, Silard said.
Aside from uncertainty with vaccine availability that has since receded into the background, Stamford Health is tackling a more intractable problem: vaccine hesitancy and health inequity. Both present a formidable barrier to its 3,000-a-day vaccination goal.
To help combat vaccine hesitancy, Stamford Health is conducting outreach programs, including setting up panels with people who have already received the vaccine to talk about their experience, Silard said. The system is also participating in Stamford Mayor David Martin’s weekly Zoom calls to further educate the public on the vaccine.
The Covid-19 pandemic shone a harsh light on existing health disparities in the country, with people in minority racial groups and low-income populations most likely to get the disease and die from it.
Stamford Health has put together a task force, which includes health system members, city officials and members of community health organization Vita, to ensure that vaccines are being administered in an equitable manner, said Silard.
In addition, the health system is partnering closely with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Building One Community, an organization that works with the undocumented community, to focus vaccine administration efforts on underserved populations.
Building One Community has developed a great deal of trust with a population that is typically hesitant to use healthcare services, said Dr. Anka Badurina, executive director of the organization, in a phone interview.
Through the pandemic, the organization has been working to ensure immigrant and underserved communities are included in response efforts — from testing to, now, vaccination.
One of its main areas of focus has been helping the elderly in these communities get registered for vaccine appointments, Badurina said. Those currently eligible often don’t have access to the internet or an email address, which is typically required for registration. Building One Community, which has interpreters on hand, helps them with the process.
Further, the organization helps organize transport to vaccination sites.
“Stamford Health partners with organizations like Building One Community [because] you have to go to those that have a trusted voice in the community,” Badurina said. “They are the ones that know where the community is and know exactly what the community is lacking.”
With the help of its community partners Stamford Health has established a “No Barriers” day, where members from minority groups and under-resourced communities can come to a vaccination site without an appointment, get registered and get vaccinated, Silard said. No individuals are asked about their immigration status or other questions that might keep people from coming to get vaccinated.
Stamford Health wants to eliminate any traditional barriers to vaccination to ensure that the largest swath of eligible individuals can get vaccinated, Silard said.
“We see [vaccine administration] as our moral, ethical responsibility to help fight this deadly disease,” she said.
Photo: LarisaBozhikova, Getty Images