NJAFP is Advocating for You and Your Patients Every Day

NJAFP is in regular communications with the NJ Department of Health, Governor Murphy’s office, AAFP, and elected officials; and we are using the news media throughout the pandemic to have your voices heard, particularly on the issue of family medicine’s role in NJ’s COVID-19 vaccine administration. The core of NJAFP’s advocacy is grounded in encouraging health care policy that values primary care and your relationship with your patients and communities.

We have issued and shared an NJAFP position statement on family medicine’s role in vaccine distribution below for your reference and please visit our NJAFP in the News page to see our NJAFP leadership representing family medicine in the press.

Primary Care Physicians Should Play Key Role in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Primary care physicians and practices are essential to the success of a widespread COVID-19 vaccination effort and must be involved in coordination and communication with all stakeholders. Primary care physicians are on the front lines of the pandemic response – playing a critical role by diagnosing, testing, treating, and counseling patients and their families.

Primary care physician practices are receiving hundreds of calls each day from their patients asking if their practice has the vaccine and, if not, if they can be put on a list just in case they receive any. There is a lack of information on why primary care practices are not part of the vaccination distribution plan to properly respond to patients, and primary care physicians and staff are experiencing great difficulty connecting patients, particularly their most vulnerable patients, to the vaccine.

Prioritization of and collaboration with community primary care physicians on vaccination strategies, ongoing compliance with proven public health strategies, and a COVID-19 vaccine for primary care physicians to administer to our patients are all critical to ensure an adequate vaccine response.

Our patients want to receive their vaccination anywhere they can, and we support the goal of administering as many as possible – but the Murphy Administration must recognize that primary care physician practices are able to easily identify and reach out to our most vulnerable patients to educate and vaccinate those in our community. Administration of vaccines is daily practice for family physicians.

Over the next several months the United States will attempt to administer COVID-19 vaccines to the nation’s 270 million people over the age of 16. Given the strain the virus has put on our health care system and the hesitation of many to get the vaccine, this will not be an easy task, but it is one that we can accomplish with an effective and efficient strategy.

To achieve this goal, we need to educate people about the importance of vaccines, communicate the safety and efficacy in an understandable way, address individual concerns, and create a culture of confidence around the COVID-19 vaccines. We also need to establish reliable processes to identify, prioritize and notify patients based upon their age, disease risk and geographic location. Additionally, we need to develop a reliable, real-time patient tracking system at the point of care.

Fortunately, the best resources available to move us toward this goal already exist, but is being widely ignored – primary care physicians. It is critical that we further engage primary care physicians to help us reach the necessary COVID-19 vaccination rate.

Here are reasons why primary care physicians are best positioned with patients to move the needle:

The biggest challenge we face is building confidence in the vaccine(s). A recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) article (jamanetwork.com) noted that between April 2020 and December 2020, “the percentage of people who stated they were somewhat or very likely to get vaccinated declined from 74% to 56%.” This decrease in vaccine confidence should concern us all.

It is imperative that vaccine information and education come from highly trusted sources. The best messengers already have that relationship of trust with their primary care physician.

Primary care physicians are highly trusted by the public. A recent NPR/Ipsos survey (www.npr.org) found that when asked “How much do you trust each of the following people?” 85% of respondents indicated that they trust their personal physician. This trust in physicians was consistent across political affiliation with 84% of Republicans, 89% of Democrats and 86% of independents stating that they trust “their physician.”

Sources of Care
Creating and implementing a process to vaccinate millions of people requires that we use the proven, accessible resources that exist in the community versus seeking to create new programs. When faced with a large-scale challenge, it’s tempting to think that the best approach is to centralize distribution with large entities like hospitals and retail pharmacies. But Americans do not seek out preventive health care at these locations; they rely on their physicians, more specifically their primary care physician in their community, to manage their overall health care needs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,(www.cdc.gov) 84.3% of adults and 93.6% of children have at least one annual encounter with a physician. Upon further evaluation we find that in any given year, 77% of adults saw a primary care physician(www.statista.com) and 89.4% of children and adolescents saw a primary care physician(www.uspharmacist.com) at least once. In fact, we know that more than 190 million unique patient visits are made to family physicians each year.

Prioritization and Population Management
The process of identifying and prioritizing individuals for vaccination is achievable through a coordinated effort with primary care physicians who have insight into an individual’s health history. According to the CDC, the priority population for vaccination is the 116 million people in the United States over the age of 50 and, more specifically, the 54 million people over the age of 65. It is highly likely that individuals have an ongoing relationship with a primary care physician who understands their health care status, risk and needs. Thus, we should leverage these relationships to manage the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.

The State of New Jersey is looking to get as many vaccinations in arms as possible – and we agree. But, if we are serious about widespread vaccination of the population by this summer, we need to quickly alter course and bring trusted and proven resources to the forefront of our effort. Not including primary care physicians in this strategy is short-sighted and does not address the accessibility issues faced by patients, particularly those in older populations.

Americans trust physicians, especially their primary care physician.

When it comes to making important decisions about their health and the health of their families, Americans don’t turn to unknown entities, corporate CEOs or big box retailers; they turn to their primary care physician. While a single practice may not be able to vaccinate thousands of patients in one day, many primary care practices administering vaccines can be just as impactful as a megasite, perhaps even more so.

Rather than overlooking primary care practices, the question for Governor Murphy and the Biden administration should be “How can we work more closely with the primary care physician community?”