How Penn Medicine is getting COVID-19 vaccines to communities that need it most

In the weeks since beginning patient vaccinations, Penn Medicine has administered more than 62,000 doses of vaccine to patients and the public, pushing forward in the face of ongoing challenges, including shortages of vaccines, varied prioritization guidelines in states and Philadelphia, and vaccine hesitancy.

A community health care worker wearing a face shield and mask leans toward a seated community member in a face mask asking question prior to receiving a vaccine.
Janet Haas, a member of the William Penn Foundation, administers a vaccine at the School of the Future In West Philadelphia. (Image: Penn Medicine News)

After mining electronic medical records for all patients who met eligibility criteria based on city or state guidelines, each eligible patient received an email with a link to MyPennMedicine (the online patient portal), which would allow them to schedule a time and date for the vaccination. But it quickly became clear that patients in the earliest vaccine eligibility groups—many of whom are 75 and older or fighting serious chronic illnesses—were not as likely to respond to this technology. The health system’s approach quickly pivoted, adding several new outreach methods, such as calling people directly, adopting a texting based platform and having practice management staff make appointments when they arrive for a visit.

That direct outreach was especially critical. With PJ Brennan, chief medical officer for the Health System, and Phil Okala, the Health System’s chief operating officer, leading the effort, the team worked with Reverend Dr. William Shaw—pastor of White Rock Baptist Church in West Philadelphia and chair of the Board of the Hospital—and a coalition of other West and Southwest Philadelphia faith leaders to set up a series of community-based clinics in a church, recreation center, and a school.

This story is by Sally Sapega. Read more at Penn Medicine News.