Following the sharp uptick of COVID-19 infections in early 2021, increasing vaccination availability and accessibility was critical for states and local jurisdictions. While St. Louis County implemented a holistic vaccination program, including mass vaccination sites through the Department of Public Health (DPH), regional hospital systems, and the National Guard, vaccine demand not only outstripped supply but was changing quickly with the opening of a new age and health-based eligibility tiers.
As Missouri’s most populous county with over 1 million residents across the St. Louis metropole and surrounding suburban and rural communities, the DPH knew the existing emergency management and mass vaccination strategies were not sufficient. Furthermore, they could not ensure equitable vaccine availability and administration across the County’s many communities, particularly those located in the systemically underserved areas of the North and South.
Faced with these mounting challenges, the DPH contracted Witt O’Brien’s to serve as its emergency management consultant and evaluate and optimize its existing program. Further, DPH looked to Witt O’Brien’s to provide program-wide management, operational staff augmentation, operational support to vaccination sites, and communications.
Immediately upon contract signing, Witt O’Brien’s deployed more than 30 team members to assess the existing program and identify integration and optimization strategies for Incident Command System (ICS) implementation. Within 10 days the team had created a Project Management Plan and initiated the necessary recruitment of personnel to meet DPH’s specific skill set requirements, including community outreach, clinical specialists, IT expertise, and logistics functions. A robust workforce training development and a delivery plan were put in place.
Witt O’Brien’s also enhanced the County’s reporting system with improved data validation processes and executive dashboards allowing for real-time vaccination administration monitoring and streamlined decision making.
With the project plan and reporting infrastructure in place, Witt O’Brien’s specialists and DPH officials were able to update and refine vaccination planning efforts, operational guidance documents, and standard operating plans. With this knowledge, DPH and Witt O’Brien’s designed and deployed a scalable traveling neighborhood pop-up clinic model targeting underserved communities.
Not only did the stand-up of fixed and mobile vaccination sites require tremendous interagency coordination, but significant communication and education. This outreach campaign informed local constituents of their options, provided accurate COVID-19 information and access to personal protective equipment, reduced hesitancy, and importantly increased trust, particularly amongst minority populations. Working closely with the DPH and other key agencies, Witt O’Brien’s launched a unique beauty and barbershop campaign, a faith-based campaign, and one specifically for communities with non-English language needs, including Bosnian and Somali. Local small businesses and university campuses were also engaged in the outreach effort serving as sources of information and pop-up vaccination delivery.
By selecting a trusted partner with decades of specialized experience in emergency management, Witt O’Brien’s was able to deliver successful results in less than 6-months, significantly faster than what might have been achieved by a generalist management consulting firm.
Together with the DPH, Witt O’Brien’s deployed a total of 275 vaccination clinics, 80% of which were in priority low vaccination zip codes. This represented a 20% increase in the County’s total vaccination rate or more than 70,000 administered vaccinations. Community outreach involved collaboration with nearly 40 barbershops and more than a dozen faith-based organizations, with many continuing Witt O’Brien’s communication campaigns throughout 2021.