The provider community is started to prepare for the potential rollout of booster shots to maintain immunity from COVID.
And front and center in the preparation are a key segment: community health centers.
Those providers have played a vital role in the current vaccination effort, administering more than 10 million doses since December with 61% of those patients belonging to racial and ethnic minority populations.
But more resources will be necessary to remain pivotal in the battle to stop the spread of the virus.
David Becerra, director of programs for Families Together of Orange County Community Health Center in California, said the prospect of administering booster shots means the organization must maintain staffing levels.
Over the past six months, Family Together added 30 staffers to its workforce of more than 100. These included both clinicians and administrative support.
Since last December, FTOC has administered more than 40,000 shots, and expects to provide more than 20,000 people with booster shots. But demand for the vaccine has dropped from a daily average of 800 in mid-March down to less than 100.
And now FTOC struggles to find the funding to permanently hire its newest staff members for routine primary care services.
The center has already shifted 80% of its vaccination staff to work in other parts of its organization, including re-assigning some to its second brick-and-mortar site as well as to its mobile clinic units.
That can only be sustained for so long, Becerra said.
“If we get the announcement in August that booster shots are going to be due in September or October, we would have difficulty getting back staff members we may have lost and getting in place the supplies that we may need,” Becerra said.
In March, the Biden administration announced it was committing more than $6 billion from the American Rescue Plan to go to 1,400 community health centers to help expand their vaccination efforts.
That funding will most likely help providers pay for past and current COVID expenses, when declines in patient volume led to lower revenue, said Katy Caldwell, CEO of Legacy Health Community Health in Houston.
Like FTOC, Caldwell said Legacy’s booster shot strategy involves administering to patients within their routine clinic visits and at pop-up clinics, mobile vaccination units, and in their school-based health sites.
To handle the projected increase in demand, Legacy provided more overtime pay to its clinical staff of more than 1,400.
“We have definitely benefitted from most of the different stimulus programs, but a lot of what we are able to do is going to depend what funding we have both from the state and federal levels, ” Caldwell said.