Despite their eagerness to participate, only one of five primary care physicians said they were giving the vaccine to their patients, according to a survey conducted in mid-January by the Larry A. Green Center with the Primary Care Collaborative, a nonprofit. Given the widespread shortages of supply, many could not get the vaccine, and a third of them reported they had not been in contact with their local health department.
Dr. Katelin Haley, a family medicine doctor in Lewes, Del., is one of the lucky few who just received 240 doses of the vaccine and will be immunizing patients this week. Her staff had been checking every day with the state to see when they could expect a shipment. “Chasing the vaccine has been almost a full-time job,” she said.
While Dr. Haley, who also works with Aledade, is sympathetic to the state’s struggle to get adequate supplies of the vaccine, she thinks practices like hers need some of the doses. “It’s a delicate balance to address the state’s needs and the individual practice’s needs,” she said.
Some physicians, like Dr. Altman, have received small amounts of the vaccine but they do not know when they may have enough to immunize all of the patients who qualify. In late January, Dr. Altman and his staff vaccinated 200 patients in the practice’s parking lot, in spite of the frigid weather. “Patients were literally in tears, they were so grateful for our efforts,” he said.
The Trump administration left it up to the states to determine how they distributed the vaccines, and the states, and even local communities, are taking different approaches. “So much of whether primary care is leveraged depends on the state,” said Ann Greiner, the chief executive of the Primary Care Collaborative.
Although the demand for vaccines is currently outstripping supply, relying on primary care doctors to vaccinate the public when supply begins to outpace demand later in the year is essential, said Dr. Asaf Bitton, a primary care doctor who is the executive director of Ariadne Labs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Their involvement will be critical to overcoming vaccine hesitancy and reaching herd immunity.
While some conversations are beginning to take place, “they should have been starting to happen six months ago,” he said.