Part four in our six-part feature on executing an event vaccine mandate.
In mid-May, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society made the decision to mandate vaccinations for its August 9-13 Global Health Conference & Exhibition, also known as HMISS21, in Las Vegas. Attendees were informed that all vaccines approved for emergency use by both the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization would be accepted. However, vaccinations would have to be verified.
How did that verification process actually work, and what safeguards were in place on site? HIMSS Vice President of Meetings Karen Malone and Director, Meeting Services Anthony Maggiore took MeetingsNet through the verification and on-site registration process and discussed lessons learned.
HIMSS attendees had three options for verifying their vaccinations: Pre-show, they could download the Clear Health Pass app or go through an online SafeExpo process, or, on site, they could visit a vaccine verification center run by SafeExpo.
Clear Health Pass: There are two ways attendees can get verified using the Clear Health Pass app. If their vaccine provider has an agreement with Clear (for example, CVS pharmacies), vaccination data can be integrated into the app. Alternately, attendees can use the app to upload a photo of their vaccination card. Maggiore explains that Clear uses optical character-recognition technology to spot forgeries. “When the app is reading each card, it’s making sure that the logo is correct and in the right spot, and that the card is the correct size. It's also looking at the copy to ensure that it is an accurate CDC card. Is it 100 percent foolproof? No, but it certainly is better than just looking at a card and taking it at face value.”
SafeExpo: For people with hesitancy around sharing their data digitally, HIMSS offered SafeExpo’s more manual verification process. “Pre-show, SafeExpo had a concierge program where an attendee could book a five-minute online appointment,” explains Maggiore. “The attendee logs on, turns on the computer’s camera, shows a photo of their CDC card, shows their photo ID, and then, as long as all qualifications are met, SafeExpo emails the person a vaccination-verification card.”
For attendees who didn’t like either of those options, SafeExpo set up several verification centers on site. “It was the same concept,” says Maggiore. “Attendees showed those two documents, and as long as all qualifications were met, they were handed a physical vaccine-verification card to take to registration.”
A full 84 percent of attendees verified their vaccine status before the first day of the show, which was a surprise to HIMSS. “We had bulked up staffing to verify vaccines on site but we didn't need it,” said Maggiore. “If you communicate it enough and you communicate it clearly, people will go through the process before getting on the plane.”
The SafeExpo concierge program was extremely popular, with all available appointments booked within two weeks of announcing the service. Clear Health Pass was by far the most-used option, says Malone. Between 85 percent and 90 percent of all attendees used Clear, and most uploaded a photo of their vaccination card rather than integrating with a vaccine provider.
Swear to It
When attendees arrived at the show’s on-site registration area, they had to show their Clear Health Pass or the vaccine verified card from SafeExpo, either in a digital or physical form. However, there was one more step before they could claim their badge.
Attendees were directed to kiosks where they had to attest that they were being truthful about their vaccination status and that they were willing to comply with all on-site health-and-safety protocols. “As soon as you attested to those items, your badge printed out. Once you were wearing your badge, we considered you fully verified, and you were free to move about the show and never had to show the Clear Health Pass or the vaccine verified card again,” says Maggiore.
The attestation serves a couple of purposes, said Maggiore. It underscores the gravity of the vaccination requirement, and it also gives the association some cover. “If you find out that somebody forged a card or is not obeying the mask policy, whatever the case may be, you can always go back to the fact that they attested that they were being truthful and that they would comply.”
Covid Testing Still Needed
Although providing a negative Covid test was not an alternative for getting access to HIMSS21, the event still provided testing services.
“Testing was offered as a convenience to those who needed it to fly home or to return to work the following week,” Maggiore explained. “We worked with an organization called Eden Health and offered complimentary Covid rapid testing as well as PCR testing, which could get billed through insurance or paid for out of pocket.”
The testing services were available throughout the show and attendees could book appointments even before getting to Las Vegas through the HIMSS website or mobile app. “Because Covid numbers really started to spike just before we left for Vegas, all of the appointments booked up very quickly, and we ended up having SafeExpo come through in a pinch and set up a supplemental testing site.”
Close to 550 Covid tests were performed on HIMSS attendees. One person tested positive during the show and five more reported Covid infections in the 10-day window after the event.
Advice for Avoiding On-Site Headaches
• Think through when and how attendees will show proof of vaccination. At first, HIMSS asked for people to show validation before they entered the registration line but found that many simply tried to avoid the process. HIMSS changed tactics so that attendees could not enter the registration area without showing proof.
• If someone visits an on-site vaccine validation center and cannot be validated, flag that unqualified individual in the registration system to prevent him or her from slipping through and getting a badge.
• Having security at on-site verification centers is critical, says Maggiore. “You will 100 percent have people show up who claim they had no idea they had to be vaccinated, or that you would be taking it as seriously as you are,” he says. “Having security to deescalate those situations and remove those individuals from your meeting space is very helpful.”
• To prevent someone from requesting a duplicate badge and sharing that with a friend who is not vaccinated, HIMSS is considering making photos mandatory on badges.
• If unregistered guests are invited to certain events, like an awards gala, consider how the proof of vaccination will be handled. At HIMSS, SafeExpo was there to handle vaccine verification of guests without a badge
• Your process is only as strong as the people monitoring it. HIMSS found that temporary staffers don’t always understand the importance of their role.
• Third-party health-and-safety companies were invaluable to the on-site process. For example, representatives of Clear Health Pass were on site to answer questions and deal with technical issues.
No Vax, No Entry
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Pre-Event Communications
Part 3: Health-and-Safety Terms and Conditions
Part 4: The On-Site Vaccine Verification Process
Part 5: A Kink in the Vaccination Plan: Supplier Labor
Part 6: Vaccine Mandates: A Legal Q&A