“Where’s my vaccine?” Shipment delays disrupt plans for flu vaccine clinics

MGMA Stat - September 28, 2020

Patient Access

Population Health

MGMA Staff Members

Multiple medical practice leaders across the country are reporting delays in receiving shipments of flu vaccinations, postponing or forcing cancellation of seasonal flu vaccine clinics at their facilities.

The delays are particularly disruptive ahead of especially high demand, as public health officials encourage flu vaccines. The push to motivate patients to seek flu shots sooner rather than later — as Dr. Kevin Ban, chief medical officer for Walgreens, told The New York Times — is to reduce strain on the healthcare system amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Medical Group Management Association’s most recent MGMA Stat poll asked healthcare leaders, “Is your practice experiencing delays in getting flu vaccines this year?” The majority (66%) responded “no,” while 34% said “yes.”

The poll was conducted Sept. 25, 2020, with 706 applicable responses.

Among practice leaders reporting delays, 48% attributed it to availability; another 47% cited problems with shipping, while 5% said “other.”

Christi R. Siedlecki, MSN, RN, FACMPE, chief executive officer, Grants Pass Clinic, said her organization was expecting a large shipment last week, which was delayed, forcing the practice to cancel this week’s flu vaccine clinic. The delay was blamed on recent natural disasters disrupting deliveries, such as wildfires along the West Coast and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast.

Multiple MGMA members also reported only receiving partial shipments of flu vaccines, with the bulk of some orders possibly being delayed until November. “We were told the problem is delivery, not manufacturing,” according to one medical group leader in Michigan. “We do not have the supply to meet the demand presently.”

As William Massengill relayed, a drive-up flu clinic planned for this past Saturday at the medical center he leads in North Carolina was cancelled due to the organization’s next shipment being delayed until Sept. 30, with the majority of the vaccine supply now having “no proposed shipment date.”

One practice leader in Ohio also noted that local practices have faced syringe shortages despite not experiencing vaccine shortages yet.

The delays, regardless of the root cause, further complicate an already challenging flu season, in which physician practices, hospitals and pharmacies have increased reliance on drive-through and outdoor flu clinics to provide better social distancing and mitigate potential coronavirus exposure risks.

Key considerations for practice leaders

  • Create sample scripts for team members to talk to patients about the availability of flu shots.
  • Proactively reach out to high-risk patients about getting their flu vaccinations while supplies last.
  • Ensure providers and staff receive flu vaccinations if it’s a requirement in your office. 
  • Some flu symptoms may be indistinguishable from COVID-19 symptoms, which could necessitate an employee to quarantine if a COVID-19 test and its results aren’t immediately available. Team members being out sick can disrupt care delivery and scheduling, which already may be affected by COVID-19 protocols.
  • If located in an area with colder temperatures and higher-than-average snowfall, create a contingency plan for shifting outdoor flu clinics if weather interferes. 

MGMA Stat

Would you like to join our polling panel to voice your opinion on important practice management topics? MGMA Stat is a national poll that addresses practice management issues, the impact of new legislation and related topics. Participation is open to all healthcare leaders. Results of other polls and information on how to participate in MGMA Stat are available at: mgma.com/stat.

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