AHA presses for changes to COVID-19 vaccine rollout and for HHS to take larger role

The American Hospital Association is imploring the Trump administration to make several moves aimed at improving the disparate rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, which in some cases has overwhelmed facilities.

The association sent a letter Thursday to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar calling for more transparency and support for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine doses. The letter comes as frustrations are boiling over in hospitals that are shouldering both the rollout and massive surges of the virus.

“In the first few weeks of administering vaccines, hospitals have seen a number of barriers to smooth and effective vaccinations,” the letter said.

A top priority is for HHS to do a better job of sharing their goals and expectations for vaccine distribution.

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Right now, individual states and localities have developed their own plans for the rollout, and HHS needs to assess whether those plans can meet the vaccination goals.

“Hospitals are committed to being a central part of the vaccination effort, but hospitals alone cannot do it, especially as we care for burgeoning numbers of critically ill COVID-19 patients, and struggle to maintain sufficient staffing work to have enough personal protective equipment and other resources,” the letter said.

AHA complained that some hospitals have reported getting fewer doses of the vaccine than they requested while others got more doses and facilities got no explanation for the discrepancy.

“We are hearing from hospitals and health systems that serve more than one state that it is hard to manage vaccine distribution when their patients live in jurisdictions with different rules about which patients are prioritized and that are at different priority levels,” the association said.

HHS also needs to take a greater support role and provide consistent communication to stakeholders that are distributing the vaccine, AHA said. AHA referenced HHS’ actions for the distribution of the COVID-19 treatment remdesivir, where officials held routine calls with hospitals and other stakeholders to address any issues.

“A similar strategy might serve you well here,” AHA said.

HHS also needs to take the lead in developing a process to quickly address any questions, AHA said. For instance, hospitals at the initial rollout of vaccines last month had major questions and turned to their locality, which may have developed their own answer or asked for help from the federal government.

“It is unclear who is responsible for answering questions or by what mechanism all interested parties will receive the answers to those questions,” the association said.

An HHS spokesperson said that Operation Warp Speed and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was working with states and jurisdictions for vaccine administration.

"Just yesterday, HHS announced an additional $3 billion to jurisdictions for vaccination planning and administration, told states they should rapidly expand population groups being prioritized if vaccination rates are low, and announced that states should rapidly begin using pharmacy chains around the country to administer the vaccine at facilities where Americans are used to getting their other vaccines," the agency said.