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Embracing our Community
Embracing Our Community

Cedars-Sinai Builds Coalition to Vaccinate Vulnerable Angelenos

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March, Cedars-Sinai leapt into action to plan several months ahead, to flu season.

"We had no way of knowing what the pandemic would look like in the fall, but we thought it was possible that COVID-19 and seasonal flu could collide, and area hospitals could be overwhelmed with flu and coronavirus patients," says Carolyn Buenaflor, associate director of Community Health Improvement.

The threat of a "twindemic" prompted Cedars-Sinai to form a coalition of more than a dozen area hospitals, health systems, social-service organizations, and governmental agencies. The group includes the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, Providence Health, Kaiser Permanente, and UCLA Health. Together, the organizations quickly developed three priorities designed to prevent the dangerous collision—beginning with unified messaging emphasizing the importance of getting a flu shot this year.

Each coalition member created a seasonal flu website with coordinated content explaining why getting an influenza vaccination is more important than ever.

The coalition's second priority: focused outreach efforts to vulnerable populations at higher risk of contracting the seasonal flu, including South L.A., Boyle Heights, Koreatown, and areas of the San Fernando Valley.

"At Cedars-Sinai, we reviewed three years of patient data and determined which geographic areas had the largest incidence of influenza, and that helped inform where we should hold flu-shot clinics"

Priority three was sharing best practices—proven strategies to increase the number of people who get flu vaccinations.

One centerpiece best practice is straightforward: make it as easy as possible to get a flu shot. That's why the vaccinations are free and all coalition members' flu websites prominently feature a link to the California Hospital Association's Fight Flu Together website. The site points community members to flu-shot providers in their area. Dates and locations of Cedars-Sinai's vaccination clinics can be found by using this tool.

The coalition is hosting flu-shot clinics at community sites people are likely to visit, like food pantries, parks, places of worship and civic centers, and at convenient drive-through flu-shot clinics.

Hospitals in the coalition held the first flu-shot clinics in October and have vaccination clinics scheduled through the end of December; if needed, flu-shot clinics will be extended to January.

So far, Cedars-Sinai's flu-shot efforts are far exceeding its initial goal of providing 1,200 vaccinations over the course of this year's influenza season. In the kickoff month of October alone, Cedars-Sinai provided more than 1,230 free flu shots to the community.

While the coalition organized by Cedars-Sinai will build on this momentum and continue working together throughout flu season, the group is also focused on the future.

"This has been such a positive experience that we've agreed to collaborate for future flu seasons and to come together whenever there's a health threat to the communities we serve," Buenaflor says.

And lessons learned from the collaborative effort could help Los Angeles tackle massive COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

"While this wasn't our initial intention, the flu-vaccination coalition we've built turns out to be a very good dress rehearsal for when a COVID-19 vaccination becomes available," observes Buenaflor. "We're already mobilized and ready to go."