As published in the OC Register.
We may have a high rate of COVID-19 vaccination, but the pace of shots for California adults has slowed. Vaccine hesitancy is “a thing,” more so than many medical professionals predicted, particularly among young adults. However, for many younger people statewide, the Inland Empire and Orange County, “hesitancy” doesn’t mean they’ll never get a jab—it just means they need easier access to one.
Vaccine hesitant adults aged 19-26, according to recent polling from The Economist and YouGov, are most likely to change their minds. They are also more motivated by the idea that vaccines will allow them to get back to doing the things they love, rather than simply protect others. Many are frankly turned off by MyTurn, our state’s notoriously complicated and glitchy vaccine appointment system. Both medical providers and the state need to understand this, and meet these young adults where they are through different, non-judgmental messaging, and seamless access to a shot.
Our Planned Parenthood health centers across Orange and San Bernardino Counties have realized this, and have emphasized to our young adult patients that getting the vaccine will allow them to live their lives again. Importantly, Planned Parenthood is also among the first healthcare organizations in the region to integrate COVID-19 vaccines into regular doctors’ visits—just as providers nationwide have been doing with the flu shot for years.
We first saw just how effective it is to simply meet people where they are earlier this year, after a successful first day of vaccine clinics, where we administered hundreds of doses. Our manager at our Anaheim health center beamed as she recounted how many of our on-site support staff agreed last-minute to a jab at the end of the day because it was easily available. “We got the cleaning crew, and both security guards too!”
As time went on, we found that offering the vaccine to patients already there for appointments was going to be crucial. An exchange between one of our nurse practitioners and a younger patient illustrates this perfectly. The young man asked, “Can I get a record of the vaccine, like can you send it to a database somewhere so I can show that I have a vaccine passport for the clubs? “Yes” replied our nurse practitioner, “you can get a vaccine card. Pull out your phone and I’ll show you the website where you can go and register for another appointment for that.”
“Oh, you don’t have it,” said the patient with a sigh, “OK, I’ll try to get to that sometime…”
If only we had been able to offer him the shot right then and there. While we’re able to do that for patients now, access to the vaccine for many independent practices and small groups like ours remains unattainable. Allotments of vaccine must go through a cumbersome process requiring additional contracts, unrealistic inventory turnaround and an entirely separate scheduling and record system. Doctors have to refer patients to an outside website where they must fill out nearly 30 questions, search for a provider, schedule a separate appointment and get their vaccine on another day at another location.
This is like a Starbucks barista asking if you would like a scone with your latte, then sending you to a separate store on a different day with an online registration system to purchase the scone. Our state government and medical providers need to understand what retailers have known for decades: it’s all about easy access.
California did a great job with mass vaccination at the beginning. The state has loosened restrictions around eligibility, waste and inventory burn rates; procured enough vaccines to ensure every eligible person has access to a shot; and provided funding to community health groups like ours. Now, it’s time for the state to allow providers to order and stock vaccines on their shelves—no strings, extra data or registration systems attached. Doctors must be able to make vaccine administration part of their routine workflows.