What We Have Learned from Mass Vaccination Sites
By Stephanie Schorow for the Global Mass Vaccination Site Collaborative
Barely a year ago, the first vaccines against COVID-19 rolled out, raising hopes and posing challenges for efforts to halt the spread of the pandemic. To say it’s been a rollercoaster for vaccination professionals would be putting it mildly. Yet the scramble to get shots into arms in diverse populations around the world has produced insights and learnings that will inform vaccination efforts in the coming decades.
The final May 13, 2022, online meeting of the Global Mass Vaccination Site Collaboration, an initiative by Ariadne Labs and the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Boost Community, focused on “Best Practices, Lessons Learned, and the Path Forward” in the continuing push to support and promote COVID-19 vaccinations worldwide. The lively, highly interactive meeting attracted more than 60 representatives from around the globe including from India, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Israel, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Philippines, and the United States.
Posing the first question to three panelists was Eric Goralnick, MD, MS, Principal Investigator of the collaborative and Associate Faculty at Ariadne Labs. He asked: “Mass vaccination sites have played a critical role in COVID-19 vaccine delivery strategies. What are some of the major successes we’ve seen in this time? What best practices stick out to you?”
Responding first was panelist Anna Rapp, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who praised the rapid set up, globally and locally, of vaccination efforts. “That has meant a mobilization of all kinds of resources: robust planning, staffing, funding, sometimes in modalities never had been used before …That galvanization has been a tremendous success,” she said.
In 2021, more than a billion doses were distributed in low-income countries. Sites have been able to pull in large swaths of the population that had never been a focus for vaccination as well as general health services.
However, mass vaccination sites “are not a long-term delivery strategy,” said Vidya Sampath, Director and Team Lead, Data Analytics, VillageReach, which creates people-centered health solutions that improve equity and access to care. “They have a very specific moment in time when they can be effective and that is related to demand for vaccines.” Unlike campaigns that seek out people, these sites are for those who want the vaccines and who are coming to get them, thus it should be clear when and where to go.
Sampath’s other points include a recommendation for conducting exit surveys that “ask specific questions of how the community is feeling that day.” Using that data, VillageReach has been able to tweak its strategies, she said.
Mass sites are “very good for urban, highly populated areas,” said Imran Mirza, Health Specialist, UNICEF. “We don’t need a 5-star vaccination site. We need a site where people can come, they don’t have to pay, they don’t have to face any problems. They get the vaccine and they go home.”
Rapp addressed some of the gaps remaining, particularly the decreased sense of urgency. “We are far from done with this pandemic unfortunately,” she said. “One of things that is concerning me is a loss of momentum, especially as restrictions are easing and there is an eagerness in all countries, but particularly in high-income settings, to be past the end of the pandemic. There needs to be attention to reach everyone who needs a vaccine.”
COVID-19 fatigue is setting in across so many domains, Goralnick agreed.
Vaccination needs to be as convenient as possible, panelists said. “We have shifted from a deep constraint of vaccine supply to really having an ample vaccine supply at a global level, but we are not reaching local and global targets,” Rapp said. Mirza noted that about 30 counties have less than 20 percent of their population fully vaccinated.
Sampath said that VillageReach has found that the truly vaccine hesitant are just a small minority. “Large swaths of the community are generally supportive of vaccines and they trust the process.” The solution is to double down on access and communication.
“Our clear message is to leverage our mission and advance it, not just for COVID-19 but other vaccination efforts,” said Goralnick.
- Establish collaborations to share what works and what doesn’t.
- Supply and demand will fluctuate, so vaccine strategies must be nimble.
- Bi-directional learning can provide insight. “Practices in low and middle income countries are influencing what is happening in high income countries and vice versa,” Rapp said.
- Cross-sharing partnerships are vital for keeping costs down, particularly in set-up, staffing and maintenance costs.
- Mass vaccination sites are not standalone concepts; they need to work in tandem with all other delivery points in a locality. Think in terms of a “suite” of interventions.
The Global Mass Vaccination Site Collaborative was launched as a way for stakeholders directing vaccination campaigns around the world to come together and learn from each other’s efforts. This blog series was created to record and share the learning and insights gained from this collaboration. Read blogs from our previous meetings here.