The federal government and states have an opportunity to renew their focus on reaching highly vulnerable populations with COVID-19 vaccines. To date, few states have developed specific plans for getting vaccines to people who live in the community and have serious mental health challenges or chronic substance use disorders. A new study published in Psychiatric Services and a related Health Affairs blog post by Mathematica behavioral health experts offer insights into how behavioral health providers could help with vaccine distribution efforts to reach these populations.
The study and blog post suggest the following guidance as states refine their plans:
- Behavioral health providers could play a critical role in educating their clients about vaccines and helping them access vaccines, but they will need additional resources to support these activities.
- Inpatient psychiatric facilities and community mental health centers could build on their experience distributing other immunizations to offer COVID-19 vaccines.
- Until there is a widely available single-dose vaccine, states will likely need to invest in more intensive follow-up to ensure that people with behavioral health conditions return for their second dose.
“States should leverage the expertise of behavioral health providers in vaccine distribution efforts. These providers are well positioned to educate their clients about vaccines and, in some cases, even offer the vaccines. State public health officials could start by engaging a broad range of behavioral health stakeholders to figure out where to position vaccines in the community and how to overcome vaccine hesitancy and misinformation,” said Jonathan Brown, director of behavioral health and lead author of the study and post. “We also need to monitor disparities in the uptake of vaccines for behavioral health populations over time to focus outreach efforts.”
Learn more about Mathematica’s COVID-19 work and how we’re using evidence to light a path forward.
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