As vaccine efforts ramp up, payers gear up to combat members' hesitancy

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, payers are gearing up to play a key role in easing vaccine fears and hesitancy.

At Humana, for example, this has meant connecting with members at multiple touchpoints over the past year, and ensuring that vaccine education was not their first conversation with their health plan during the pandemic, Chief Medical Officer William Shrank, M.D., said.

"I don't think any of our members see this as our first outreach," Shrank said.

Shrank was one of the speakers on a panel hosted by America's Health Insurance Plans on Tuesday as part of its National Health Policy Conference. He was joined on the panel by Bechara Choucair, M.D., vaccination coordinator for the White House COVID-19 Response Team; Robert Gluckman, M.D., chief medical officer at Providence Health Plan; and Nancy Messonnier, M.D., director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

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Humana's team looked at boosting members' confidence in the vaccine from both micro and macro perspectives, Shrank said. The insurer conducted local outreach to members as well as participating in broader, national campaigns.

In addition, Humana is assisting its members in determining their vaccine eligibility and when possible offering a "warm transfer" to a retail pharmacy or other location where they can get a shot, Shrank said.

"I think we've tried to be really proactive in terms of how we provide outreach to and engage our members around the vaccine," he said.

Those efforts will prove even more critical as supply ramps up, the panels said. Choucair reiterated the Biden administration's promise to have a vaccine available for each adult in the U.S. by May.

He said that the White House has purchased 200 million additional doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, 100 million of each, and that through its partnership with Merck to increase production, Johnson & Johnson's vaccine should be available more broadly in short order, too.

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To date, Choucair said, more than 92 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered. Nearly a quarter (23.5%) of adults have had at least one dose, and about 12% have been fully vaccinated.

One of the largest hurdles to overcome is hesitancy among vulnerable populations that have been especially impacted by the virus, in particular communities of color. Messonnier said retail locations will be crucial in addressing this challenge.

She said nearly 90% of Americans live within five miles of a retail pharmacy, making them accessible, and patients have high trust in their pharmacists. Leaning on these providers, she said, was a key lesson from the H1N1 flu pandemic.

Messonnier also added that while the COVID-19 vaccines were developed on an accelerated timeline, the foundation they were built upon was established long before this pandemic.

"Years and years of research developed the platforms on which these vaccines are built," she said.