Texts, Walk-In Sites, Mobile Clinics: Keeping Momentum Up For COVID-19 Vaccinations

Communities, Health Systems Use New Strategies To Help With Gradual Shift From Mass Vaccination Sites

A line of people in jackets and face masks wait to enter a door held open by a medical worker.
A line of people wait to receive a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, March 11, 2021, outside of the Hayat Pharmacy in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Communities in Wisconsin are pulling out all the stops to make it easier for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 with walk-in sites, text messages and mobile clinics.

Starting Tuesday, Pierce County will have walk-in vaccinations at various schools. The county is among a handful of counties bordering Minnesota where high levels of the disease have drifted across state lines, prompting a concerted call by local officials for people to mask up and get vaccinated.

“The goal with these hometown clinics is providing busy families with an opportunity for a free, efficient, no wait vaccination opportunity. These clinics are designed to get you in and out in about 20 minutes,” said AZ Snyder, health officer/public health director, in a press release.

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When the vaccine first became available in Wisconsin, there was a limited amount and many of those eligible scrambled to get a dose. Now that Wisconsin has partially vaccinated 43 percent of the eligible population, the pace has slowed and motivation or ability for the remaining unvaccinated people to get a shot may not be as strong.

Vaccinators are trying to overcome potential obstacles like transportation and limited time by getting the vaccine into smaller more convenient venues.

“We’re in the process right now of trying to determine how we might decentralize, put vaccine efforts into local clinics, especially in conjunction with mass vaccination sites winding down,” said Nathan Bubenzer, the emergency preparedness safety manager for UnityPoint Health-Meriter.

The Alliant Energy Center is scheduled to stop providing COVID-19 vaccinations June 30, according to Public Health Madison & Dane County. The Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee is another mass vaccination site operated with assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It will stop COVID-19 vaccinations May 28.

This means the vaccination effort will shift, much of it to doctor’s offices. That may make it more convenient for patients, but raises the possibility that there will be wasted vaccine since each vial contains several doses.

“We have to be mindful that if we open a vial for one patient, we have to have a plan for the remaining doses,” said Andrea Wipperfurth, logistics chief for COVID-19 vaccine at UW Health. “That’s our biggest challenge moving from a centralized model to a clinic-based model.”

Health systems in Dane County also will expand vaccination efforts into lower-income neighborhoods utilizing pop-up clinics for those who may not have a regular physician.

“There are people who aren’t sure how to navigate the health system: where to go, who to contact for shots,” Bubenzer said.

Vaccine discussions in neighborhoods like Madison’s Darbo-Worthington are planned, he said, where people can get their questions answered.

Using Technology To Boost Vaccination Efforts

Health systems like UW Health and UnityPoint already use text messages sent to patient’s phone to remind them about regular doctor’s appointments. Texts were also used early in the pandemic to alert people when they were eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine before it became available to everyone over age 16.

A new study on seasonal flu vaccination suggests text messages sent to patients prior to a doctor’s visit can boost immunization rates. These carefully crafted “nudges” boosted vaccination rates by an average of 5 percent in the study of more than 47,000 patients of two health systems in northeastern United States: Penn Medicine and Geisinger Health.

“Our best-performing message, which increased adoption by an estimated 11 percent, reminded patients twice to get their flu shot at their upcoming doctor’s appointment and mentioned that a shot was reserved for them,” said the study published in the National Academy of Sciences.

On Friday. the Biden Administration announced two textlines that can be used to help people find COVID-19. As NPR explained, If you text your zipcode to GETVAX (for English) or VACUNA (for Spanish) you will get a message back with three possible vaccination sites, with phone numbers to call for an appointment.