It would be overused and trite to say that the pandemic has drastically altered all of our lives and will cause lasting impact on how we function in society and medicine for years to come. While it seems that the current trend of the latest Omicron variant is on the downslope, the path to get to this point has been fraught with challenges that have struck at the very core of our society. As a primary care physician on the front lines seeing COVID patients, I have had to deal with not only the disease but the politics around it.I practice in Florida, and I still cannot give COVID vaccines in my office.
I am a firm believer in the ability for physicians to be able to give all the necessary adult vaccines and provide them for their patients. The COVID vaccine exacerbated a majorly flawed system that further increased the health care disparities in the country. The current vaccine system for the majority of adult vaccines involves the physician’s being able to directly purchase supplies from the vaccine manufacturer, administer them to the patients, and be reimbursed.
Third parties can purchase vaccines at lower rates than those for physicians
The Affordable Care Act mandates that all vaccines approved by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must be covered. This allows for better access to care as physicians will be able to purchase, store, and deliver vaccines to their patients. The fallacy in this system is that third parties get involved and rebates or incentives are given to these groups to purchase vaccines at a rate lower than those for physicians.
In addition, many organizations can get access to vaccines before physicians and at a lower cost. That system was flawed to begin with and created a deterrent for access to care and physician involvement in the vaccination process. This was worsened by different states being given the ability to decide how vaccines would be distributed for COVID.
Many pharmacies were able to give out COVID vaccines while many physician offices still have not received access to any of the vaccines. One of the major safety issues with this is that no physicians were involved in the administration of the vaccine, and it is unclear what training was given to the individuals injecting that vaccine. Finally, different places were interpreting the recommendations from ACIP on their own and not necessarily following the appropriate guidelines. All of these factors have further widened the health care disparity gap and made it difficult to provide the COVID vaccines in doctors’ offices.
Recommended next steps, solutions to problem
The question is what to do about this. The most important thing is to get the vaccines in arms so they can save lives. In addition, doctors need to be able to get the vaccines in their offices.
Many patients trust their physicians to advise them on what to do regarding health care. The majority of patients want to know if they should get the vaccine and ask for counseling. Physicians answering patients’ questions about vaccines is an important step in overcoming vaccine hesitancy.
Also, doctors need to be informed and supportive of the vaccine process.
The next step is the governmental aspect with those in power making sure that vaccines are accessible to all. Even if the vaccine cannot be given in the office, doctors should still be recommending that patients receive them. Plus, doctors should take every opportunity to ask about what vaccines their patients have received and encourage their patients to get vaccinated.
The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and have been monitored for safety more than any other vaccine. There are multiple systems in place to look for any signals that could indicate an issue was caused by a COVID-19 vaccine. These vaccines can be administered with other vaccines, and there is a great opportunity for physicians to encourage patients to receive these life-saving vaccines.
While it may seem that the COVID-19 case counts are on the downslope, the importance of continuing to vaccinate is predicated on the very real concern that the disease is still circulating and the unvaccinated are still at risk for severe infection.
Dr. Goldman is immediate past governor of the Florida chapter of the American College of Physicians, a regent for the American College of Physicians, vice-president of the Florida Medical Association, and president of the Florida Medical Association Political Action Committee. You can reach Dr. Goldman at.