Partnership harnesses digital mentorship for COVID-19 vaccine rollouts

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A medical worker prepares a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo by: Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana / Reuters

A new partnership aims to use digital telementoring to prepare countries to roll out COVID-19 vaccines, through free interactive online lessons for national and subnational vaccine managers and front-line health workers.

The partnership, which was launched on Wednesday, is between the University of New Mexico’s Health Sciences Center’s Project ECHO and the Access to COVID-19 Tools or ACT Accelerator’s country readiness and delivery workstream.

The ACT Accelerator, which is led by the World Health Organization, is a collaboration that aims to hasten the development of COVID-19 tools and ensure their equitable distribution, with a particular focus on low- and middle-income countries.

COVAX releases country-by-country vaccine distribution figures

Countries involved in the facility received estimates for the number of Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine doses they should expect in the coming months.

“COVID-19 creates an urgent need to build the capacity of healthcare workers and ... do it fast,” said Dr. Leonard Bikinesi, chief HIV clinical mentor at the Ministry of Health in Namibia, which has experience using the platform for its HIV work. “Misinformation with COVID is also moving very fast so it needs a model which can equally match that.”

Dr. Bruce Struminger, senior associate director of Project ECHO, said the programs will accompany WHO’s existing online courses with live interactive sessions that allow participants to discuss issues relevant in their health care settings, analyze specific case studies and create peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

This format also helps standardize care, Bikinesi said.

“From one area, in one corner of a country, to another area in another corner of a country, all the providers will be able to care in a similar way,” he said. “It will help to efficiently utilize resources.”

Country preparedness to rollout COVID-19 vaccines has been a concern in recent months.

According to Dr. Ambrose Talisuna, program manager for emergency preparedness at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, African countries are on average about 46% ready to roll out vaccination campaigns. 

This has to change quickly as countries that are part of the COVAX Facility, a global initiative aimed at equitable access, were recently notified that they could expect to receive vaccine doses this month.

Project ECHO has worked in partnership with WHO on training health professionals throughout the pandemic. Last year over half a million people attended their sessions on COVID-19. The training covered areas such as infection prevention, caring for severely ill patients, managing ethical issues around COVID-19, managing the new COVID-19 variant, providing psychosocial support for nurses caring for COVID-19 patients, and designing treatment centers for COVID-19 patients.

Some of the topics to be covered in the new courses include preparing national regulatory systems, crafting realistic budgets, identifying target populations to receive first doses, supply chain management, and countering vaccine hesitancy.

The new partnership is also supported by UNICEF, the COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Project, TechNet-21, and the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Boost Community.

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is a global health reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries.