ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WKBW) — Doctors, county officials and a member of the Western New York Vaccination Planning Team say primary care physicians need to begin to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.
"The big problem is no primary care physicians have gotten the vaccine. If the state can send 100 doses to a pharmacy, they can send 100 doses to a doc who knows which patients need it. I'm very disappointed that that whole distribution channel to physicians has not opened up," Dr. Nancy Nielsen, the lead for the Western New York Vaccination Planning Team, said.
Dr. Raul Vazquez, a physician at Urban Family Practice, said he's been in practice for 25 years and has 15,000 patients, but no vaccine.
"We have been submitting for COVID since December. Every week you have to put in your order, and we have not gotten a single vaccine," Dr. Vazquez said.
County health directors said having doctors start vaccinating their patients can help.
"Doctors know their patients better than we would. Doctors can prioritize their patients easily. I think to us it just makes sense. They want it. They're asking for it. It just needs to get to them," Dan Stapleton, the Public Health Director in Niagara County, said.
"I can't tell you what the state's reasoning is for only right now giving vaccine doses to state sites, county sites, hospitals, federally qualified health centers and pharmacies. That's their decision. If we can have more doses that are available to the state, they'll be able to provide more doses to community providers," Dr. Gale Burstein, the Health Commissioner for Erie County, said.
Dr. Vazquez said there are a great deal of advantages when it comes to doctors distributing doses.
"You know the population. You know exactly the demographic. It's an easier process because all they have to do is sign a form. They're already in our database," Dr. Vazquez said, "It's not just we'll get the national guard to set up a vaccine site. That's going to help in the beginning, but once you drill down you're going to have a lot of appointments that are not going to get filled because people don't feel comfortable. They need that extra step that a primary care doctor can provide."
Dr. Vazquez said if the state does not start distributing doses to primary care physicians, there will be a cap in how many people are willing to be vaccinated at the current available sites.
"I see that as a problem that will develop. Because again, if you don't want the vaccine, I don't care what you put there, it's not going to happen. I think that's where we can have a bigger impact," Dr. Vaquez said.
Dr. Vazquez said the black and brown community is particularly hesitant to take the vaccine, and that's where doctors like him can help.
According to an article in the Clinical Advisor, as of March 11th, the majority of patients who have received at least one dose of the vaccine are white.
- 67% White
- 9% Hispanic
- 7% Black
"I think primary care physicians is the only solution for that group. They want physicians to talk to them at their level to understand exactly why this vaccine is so important," Dr. Vazquez said.
7 Eyewitness News asked the state why primary care physicians are not given doses of the vaccine for their patients. A representative for the Department of Health said, "As more people get vaccinated and as supply from the federal government continues to expand, we will be activating more providers, including primary care physicians — as we have always said we would."