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Partnerships, volunteerism shaping dentistry's contribution to COVID-19 response

February 17, 2021 1197

Quick Summary:

Local dental societies discuss their partnerships with county health departments to get dentists and their teams vaccinated against COVID-19, and dentists discuss their volunteer work at mass vaccination clinics in their communities.

Organized dentistry is making it easier for dentists across California to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Local dental societies have been working with local health departments to get dentists and their staff members vaccinated, and dentists are volunteering their time and skills at vaccination clinics in their communities. 

CDA’s close work with California State Dental Director Jayanth Kumar, DDS, has also been instrumental in addressing the logistical issues of vaccine rollout with local and county health departments, from ensuring smooth coordination of vaccine outreach efforts to developing troubleshooting guides to help members complete their vaccinator trainings.

SGVDS formed ‘COVID-19 task force’ to strategize, keep members informed

As news about vaccine distribution began to trickle in from the state and county, the San Gabriel Valley Dental Society quickly formed a COVID-19 task force, notified its members through email blasts about the vaccine’s availability and directed them where to sign up to be vaccinated. 

“Having a group of dedicated volunteers in this task force has been a great asset for me,” said Lee Adishian, RDH, executive director of SGVDS. “We’ve disseminated pertinent information to members without delays, and we’ve also been able to bounce ideas off one another, make decisions and act on them quickly.”

Adishian said her member dentists and their dental teams are getting vaccinated now, and that many have received their second dose of the vaccine.

She acknowledged that communication about the second doses has often been confusing, but she and her staff have been able to share what they are hearing from member dentists directly with Maritza Cabezas, DDS, the county’s dental director. In early January, Adishian along with the executive directors of all the local components in Los Angeles County had a first meeting with Dr. Cabezas, who Adishian called a “key contact” both for providing information and hearing her components’ suggestions for streamlining communications and vaccine-related processes. 

“The rollout of the vaccine has not been without its glitches in consistent supply, processes and messaging to the public, but I am hopeful supply will meet demand, and dentists will meet the challenge of becoming vaccinators,” Adishian said. “As a career dental hygienist, I am proud of our profession. This past year has been like no other. However, dentists have done what they do best: Placed their patients’ care and safety first and learned to adapt.”  

20,000 people contacted OCDS with questions, received answers 

In Orange County, dentists and their staff were among the first to get vaccinated in Phase 1a after the California Department of Public Health recommended that the tiers in Phase 1a be collapsed to include all health care professionals. CDA had advocated for that recommendation to accelerate the pace of vaccine administration; however, local and county governments made the final determination, and OCDS successfully fought to include dentists in the first phase. 

As with San Gabriel Valley, much of the success in Orange County can be attributed to fast and frequent updates from its local vaccine task force. The Orange County COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force represents the entire health care community and includes a subcommittee strictly dedicated to getting the dental community vaccinated. 

Megan Francis, executive director of Orange County Dental Society, is a member of the task force. When asked how well the vaccine notification process worked for members, she replied: “100%.” With task force meetings usually happening every Thursday, OCDS was sending emails to everyone in the dental community on Friday mornings as well as posting updates on OCDS’s social media pages.

“Occasionally, we were sending out numerous updates a day, as information was changing hourly,” Francis said.

OCDS also introduced the dental community to the app Othena, which allows the user to “control, coordinate and follow the vaccination process,” according to the product description. 
“As soon as the Othena app was ready, I received approval from Orange County Health Care Agency to send it out to thousands of dentists and their staff to register. They were one of the first groups to register through the app,” Francis said.

Then came the questions.

“We had 20,000 people reach out to us within two weeks, which included members and nonmembers. OCDS’s staff of four worked seven days a week to answer all of the calls, voicemails and emails we received,” she said. Staff were even answering questions about the app initially. 

‘Now is the time to stay connected ― remember to read your emails’ 

Of course, not all dentists and dental staff have been vaccinated. Some may forgo due to medical or other objections. But the vaccine supply remains a significant obstacle.

Francis said Orange County as of mid-February had not yet received from the state the amount of vaccine needed to vaccinate all individuals age 65 and older and in phase 1a; therefore, many dentists and dental staff had not yet been vaccinated. If they registered through the Othena app, they were put in a ‘virtual waiting room’ and should be notified when they can make an appointment.

She said efficient and accurate communication has meant everything to the vaccination process for OCDS member dentists and nonmember dentists.

“If it weren’t for organized dentistry, those in the dental community would have never known how to obtain the vaccine in Orange County, nor would they have had their questions answered,” she said. 

Thousands of nonmembers even asked to be added to the OCDS email distribution list so they, too, could be “in the know.” 

“I think it can be said that belonging to an association that is actively advocating for you is worth every penny,” she added.

Adishian echoed that assertion. 

“At the onset of the pandemic, I emphasized to members numerous times that now is the time to stay connected to the tripartite: Remember to read your emails,” she urged. “Your association is working around the clock to gather, distribute and advocate for you and your businesses.”

‘Once dentists were allowed to vaccinate, I got started the next day’

CDA and local dental societies have also been at the forefront of the push to allow dentists to administer the COVID-19 vaccine and to get dentists connected to volunteer opportunities at mass vaccination clinics and other licensed sites.

Les Hata, DDS, an eight-year volunteer with the Contra Costa Medical Reserve Corps, was a part of the Corp’s COVID-19 team before the Department of Consumer Affairs issued the Jan. 4 waiver allowing dentists to temporarily administer the COVID-19 vaccine. He’d learned all the functions of running a mass vaccination point of dispensing.

“I was screening, doing data entry, drawing vaccine into the syringes, doing post-vaccination monitoring and directing traffic,” Dr. Hata said. “Once dentists got the OK to vaccinate, they got me started doing vaccinations the next day.” He’d already successfully completed the required COVID-19 vaccine training course from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Initially, Hata was the only dentist on the team, but he said a periodontist and an endodontist recently joined the effort. He’s also now providing the COVID-19 vaccination at assisted living facilities.

“Since I have been on the team for a while, other non-dentist members were very supportive and relieved that I could start vaccinating,” Hata said. He vaccinated first responders, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and law enforcement personnel in the drive-through PODs. “When they saw I was a dentist, most everyone thought that was pretty cool.”

‘I have never seen so many people so happy to get a shot’

Susan Fredericks, DDS, recently volunteered at a newly opened COVID-19 vaccination center in Northridge. She’d been volunteering at a free clinic for the past 12 years, but when the pandemic shut it down, she found herself looking for another way to use her skills and education to help her community.

She heard the announcement about a vaccine center opening near her, visited the Los Angeles County website to sign up and was there on day three.

“The experience that day and the following Sunday was overwhelmingly great!” Dr. Fredericks said. “I have never seen so many people so happy to get a shot. People were lavish in their praise for how it ran and repeated thank-you’s to the volunteers.”

Hata called the vaccine administration online course modules “much more straightforward than giving an intra-oral injection” and said once he got started, the experience was both easy and fulfilling.

“We are adding a layer of protection for our patients, our staff and our families,” Hata said.

Fredericks added: “People are inspired and motivated by seeing others do the right thing.  Our overriding mission is to promote health, and this is a public health crisis and war we are in. We need great participation over the next six months or more.”

Dentists who wish to volunteer at mass vaccination sites can contact their local or county health department or visit the department’s website.

RDHs approved to administer COVID-19 vaccine

Registered dental hygienists in California can also now administer the COVID-19 waiver under specific conditions. As a result of CDA’s advocacy, the DCA on Feb. 11 approved a public health emergency waiver that allows dental hygienists to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to individuals age 16 and older under the supervision of an eligible vaccine provider such as a licensed dentist, physician or surgeon. CDA will share more information on how hygienists can obtain the requisite six-hour training once it becomes available.

Find the latest information about the COVID-19 vaccine, staff training and vaccine administration in CDA’s COVID-19 Vaccine Information Toolkit.