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In a Nov. 17, 2020 news release the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it was working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other federal agencies on a plan to safely and equitably distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is being distributed to 37 VA sites across the country following Emergency Use Authorization by the Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 11, 2020.

In October, staff at VA medical facilities conducted important planning exercises in preparation for the vaccine. These exercises help VA to address vaccine distribution, allocation, safety monitoring and supply tracking. 

The exercises were conducted using the Veterans Health Administration’s Performance Improvement Management System (VHA PIMS), a web-based platform developed by ORAU that provides a consistent and efficient approach to plan, develop, evaluate and improve emergency management activities across VA.

While using VHA PIMS to plan for vaccine distribution was a new idea, it was not outside the scope of the platform’s capabilities.

One of the benefits of Event Builder is the Office of Emergency Management is able to create a template exercise. They built the tabletop exercise template and were able to populate the objectives, scope, purpose and capabilities they wanted evaluated so there was consistency across the board.

OEM worked with the Office of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and the Office of Population Health, as well as with the Office of Pharmacy and the pharmacies at the medical centers to talk through how vaccine distribution could work.

Before coronavirus infections reached a pandemic level, OEM used VHA PIMS to prepare for patient surge and distribution of PPE and other equipment needed to treat COVID-19 patients. Some VA medical centers are using the exercise data to update plans and activities in real time as the pandemic surges across the country.

Additionally, VHA’s Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System (DEMPS) is using the VHA PIMS DEMPS Management System tool to qualify and track personnel who volunteer to meet the staffing needs of VHA facilities nationwide. Volunteers enter their profession and specialty (e.g., intensive care unit nurse, critical care unit nurse, biomedical technician, respiratory therapist, etc.) into the system. The DEMPS office can then filter that information into a database and get the data they need quickly and then send volunteers to facilities in need.

It’s a big success story for the VA medical centers themselves being prepared for this event. They were ahead of the game looking at their pandemic plans and procedures and fine-tuning them in the comfort of a tabletop exercise weeks before they started seeing requests from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and patient cases began to increase across the country.

PIMS has done exactly what it was designed to do: help VA be more agile and responsive in a crisis situation.