HIMSS Organizer Shares Vaccine Verification Best Practices

Frances Ferrante, Senior Editor
Anthony Maggiore

CHICAGO — With Global Health Conference & Exhibition just a month away, Anthony Maggiore, Director of Event Operations, HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) shared health and safety best practices, and admitted that with every new trade show comes a different set of challenges.

In a recent IAEE Midwest Chapter webinar, Director of Event Operations Anthony Maggiore shared lessons his organization learned about vaccine verification from that experience, and what it is are doing differently for its  2022 show, scheduled for March 14-18 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.

All health and safety information and updates are posted on a dedicated hub on the event web site — an important step, said Maggiore because clear communication is key. “It can be a complicated process to follow, so you want to be as simple with your descriptions as possible,” he said.

Florida’s laws around vaccination policies drove the biggest process change from last year. The March meeting, while still a vaccination required show, specifies voluntary vaccination proof using Safe Expo and allows for a negative test result for those who choose not to voluntarily provide their vaccination record. Rapid antigen tests are accepted, at-home or self-administered are not, and the details are spelled out on the portal.

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For anyone experiencing symptoms while on-site, and as a convenience for those requiring a negative test result to travel home or return to work, on-site PCR testing is available through Eden Health with a 48-hour turnaround and is billable through health insurance. Attendees can book their appointments through the conference app. This is extremely helpful, said Maggiore, because the vendor is also charged with taking care of an attendee if he or she becomes ill (only one person tested positive while on-site in Las Vegas), and getting them to COVID-approved hotels to quarantine or assist them if they need medical care. “Scenario planning is crucial,” Maggiore said. “You never know where COVID is going to end up when you open the doors.”

The 2021 conference used both the Clear app and Safe Expo for vaccine verification, since Clear was not set up for international attendees. Once people were verified, they had to display the green Clear health pass on the app or the Safe Expo card to temp staff at the beginning of the registration lines. They also had to complete a short survey attesting to their vaccination status and that they would comply with the protocols. Maggiore said having Clear’s own staff on-site was invaluable for helping people who had difficulty using the app. He also recommends having security at on-site verification areas if needed to diffuse a situation.

A few other important details:

Timing is important: Announce your right of entry information before the early bird cutoff to give people time to cancel if they are not interested once they see the requirements. The pandemic is a developing situation, so be ready to change your policies as you get closer to the date.

Stay in tune with what suppliers, the venue and the general contractor are doing with their protocols — One area that will be tricky for all planners is determining who the policy will apply to. “We knew we could not apply the health and safety mandate to our vendors or we would not have been able to service the show if we had to require that every housekeeper and laborer were vaccinated.”

Be transparent about COVID positives: HIMSS posted an update on the portal and sent an email when there was a positive case on-site, and also followed up 10 days after the show, per CDC guidelines, with an update on the final number of cases (6).

Look out for people trying to work around the system: There were some instances where people asked for a badge reprint so they could get a colleague who had been denied entry into the show. So for the 2022 show, all badges will also include a photo.

Get the local health department involved: Maggiore said that in Las Vegas, the Southern Nevada Health District came on-site and was a huge asset.

Stick with your “No Exceptions” rule: “It was our saving grace,” he said. “We had people who flew in from Egypt and were not able to show their vaccination access, and we had to turn them away.”

Treat event guests just like attendees: In the past, guests just needed a ticket. Now, they need to follow the same protocols by providing vaccination proof and a photo ID to enter.

Your verification process is only as strong as the people monitoring it: Temp staff might not take their roles as seriously as you want them to, so hold trainings to help them to understand how critical their role are.