Of 140 qualifying VA medical centers, Veterans at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System have received the most COVID-19 vaccines.
In April 2021, Minneapolis VA reached a huge milestone in COVID-19 vaccination of their Veteran population. Out of 73,000 Veterans, more than 67% have been fully or partially vaccinated.
Minneapolis VA attributes its success to a multipronged approach in notifying Veterans of local vaccine opportunities. In addition to using traditional communication methods, such as mailed Veteran letters and press releases to County Veteran Service Offices and Veteran Service Organizations, Minneapolis VA used digital communication to spread the word.
Communications methods included email, snail mail and social media.
Early in the communication process, a data analyst pulled thousands of email addresses of Veterans who received care in the past 24 months at Minneapolis VAHCS and added them into the GovDelivery email marketing system.
All Minneapolis VA Veterans received a mailed letter regarding vaccine eligibility, beginning with the oldest age groups and expanding to younger Veterans as national, regional and local guidance allowed.
How we notified over 74,000 Veterans
Sending letters to every Veteran in a tiered manner was no small feat.
In addition to notifying Veterans Service Organizations, we provided COVID-19 vaccine information via a radio program/podcast. More than 60 local radio stations carry the podcast weekly. With over 308,000 Veterans and Reserve and Guard troops in Minnesota, this program has a wide following and reaches a lot of Veterans.
Our three main social media channels played an important role in reaching Veterans, caregivers and other stakeholders. Minneapolis VA Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts have almost 12,000 followers combined.
Our website acted as the authoritative source of current, accurate information. Between December 1, 2020, and April 5, 2021, there were 36,558 views of the Minneapolis VA COVID-19 vaccine webpage.
VEText let Veterans schedule their own vaccines
More than 60% of Veterans have cell phones with texting capability. VA’s VEText (used for Veteran health appointment notifications) played an integral role in our success in keeping Veterans up to date on current vaccination eligibility.
We kept in constant contact to keep the correct information flowing out through all channels.
Utilizing the broadcast message feature was a great way to send mass updates to our Veterans in an efficient, fast way. We started utilizing VEText to allow Veterans to self-schedule their vaccines. This reduced the appointment scheduling traffic that our Call Center was experiencing.
Once COVID-19 vaccinations started, eligibility changed daily as new recommendations were handed down from the CDC. We kept in constant contact to keep the correct information flowing out through all channels.
Veterans asked their doctors using My HealtheVet messaging
Secure Messaging also played a large part in our communication with Veterans. As word got out about vaccine availability, Veterans started sending messages to their care providers asking if they were eligible.
They asked if they should get the vaccine based on their health, how they could go about scheduling their vaccine, what they could do if they were a “snowbird,” and what to do if they already got their vaccine elsewhere.
Minneapolis VA clinical staff answered those questions. We’re now using Secure Messaging to allow Veterans to send in copies of their vaccine cards so that a non-VA vaccine could be recorded in their official VA Medical Record.
Overall, the COVID-19 vaccination effort has been a massive undertaking throughout the country. Minneapolis VA stepped up, using multiple methods to quickly communicate with our Veterans about how to schedule their vaccine.
Data includes Veterans assigned to Minneapolis VA who were vaccinated by Minneapolis VA, other VA facilities and non-VA facilities.
Lara Carson, RN, is the My HealtheVet coordinator at the Minneapolis VA.