The Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health is taking an assertive, multipronged approach to make certain that its patients get a fair shot at getting their shot.
The CECMH’s vaccination team, led by Dr. Austin Hall, has the goal of a rate of vaccination in its severely mentally ill population of around 1,600 individuals that exceeds the rate for the general public in North Carolina.
Mental health providers are often the most trusted source of health recommendations for this vulnerable group. In the COVID-19 pandemic, that trust has been more important than ever. The severely mentally ill are among the most high-risk groups for serious complications and death from Covid-19. They also are more susceptible to online and media health misinformation.
Early after approval of the first Covid-19 vaccine, the center began planning how it would support vaccine uptake in a population that, in a typical year, is only half as likely to get a flu shot compared to the general public. There is no one barrier to vaccination for the seriously mentally ill. Socioeconomic vulnerabilities, skepticism of the health system, fragmented care, and vaccine misinformation all play a role.
Therefore, the center’s approach has been multifaceted. It has included advocating for reserved appointments for these individuals at vaccine clinics, on-site vaccination events at center locations, and the development of messaging for clinicians to use around vaccine hesitancy tailored to the needs of this population. Additionally, robust data-tracking and analytics, to identify opportunities for improvement, have supported the project throughout.
As of mid-May 2021, 51% of center patients had received at least one vaccine dose, just about 1% ahead of the rate of the general public in North Carolina. The center vaccine team’s efforts will continue through the summer and likely beyond.