Here are Some Lessons from Homeland Security’s COVID-19 Early Vaccine Campaign

Although nearly 90% of Homeland Security Department employees will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of 2021, the department faces logistical, communication and data challenges ahead of time holding lessons for future emergencies, a watchdog said recently.

Before vaccines were made widely available to Americans, the Homeland Security Department partnered with the Veterans Affairs Department in early January 2021 to provide vaccines to certain priority groups of DHS employees (more than 166,000 fell into these groups) because it did not receive a direct allocation of vaccines. Later in January 2021, DHS launched “Operation Vaccinate Our Workforce (Operation VOW)” to expedite vaccinations.

“[The Office of Inspector General] recognizes DHS’s efforts to vaccinate its priority group 1a and 1b employee populations, ”who are in health care, law enforcement and other frontline and key roles, says a report from the Homeland Security inspector general’s office released last week. “Although Operation VOW is over, there are lessons to be learned from this effort because DHS will no doubt once again deal with situations where it needs to act quickly and precisely to identify and interact with certain groups of employees in its components. ”

The department worked quickly to determine employees eligible for immunizations in advance, but it left the decision to parts of the department to determine employee eligibility, which resulted in inconsistencies, says the report. DHS has set definitions of “mission critical personnel,” but does not use them in this situation. Additionally, “DHS has only partially focused on staff resources and has delayed the establishment of a comprehensive, full-time task force to manage the effort.”

Throughout the vaccination initiative, DHS’s communications with employees were “inconsistent or unclear, causing confusion among some employees,” the report continued. Also, regarding communications, employees had difficulty using the ServiceNow software platform to register and schedule their vaccination appointments.

“DHS has successfully vaccinated some employees, but missing and incorrect personnel data in DHS systems used to facilitate vaccinations has contributed to DHS not reaching its vaccination goals,” the report said. .

After a slow climb, DHS helped 58,000 employees receive vaccines on April 6, 2021, Government Executive previously reported, representing nearly 27% of workers. All U.S. adults became eligible for vaccines for COVID prior to April 19, 2021. As of November 30, 2021, 96% of DHS employees complied with President Biden’s vaccination mandate for federal employees, more than 89% of employees have received at least one vaccine dose and 88% are fully vaccinated.Government Executive asked DHS for updated numbers, but it did not respond at the time of publication of this article.

The watchdog identified areas where DHS could improve to better prepare for future emergencies. These include: establishing a staffing plan for emergency responses in advance, ensuring communications during emergencies are “clear and consistent” and conducting employee data management and providing guidance on the part of the department to ensure consistency of data across the department.

The IG made a formal recommendation, which for the DHS Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer to “assign, direct, and supervise division representatives to maintain lists of key employees in each category defined by the existing DHS policy, ”which DHS agreed to.

Jim Crumpacker, director of DHS’s coordination office for the IG and Office of Government Accountability, in his response that DHS has had a policy since 2012 that “meets the purpose of the recommendation,” but the vaccine initiative against coronavirus is “unique.” The human capital officer will determine if further guidance is needed now based on this report, he added.


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