The approval of two COVID vaccines in December 2020 has brought some much-needed positive news in the fight against COVID-19. But we know that many physicians are still struggling to find useful and reliable information to share with their patients about how and when vaccines are coming to their community.
While supply continues to be an issue, CMA is engaged with the Newsom Administration to ensure the needs and voices of California physicians, and their patients, are heard. We have successfully pushed the Newsom Administration to relax the strict tier system for vaccine prioritization that was causing confusion and slowing down the vaccine distribution process and are now working to ensure our vast network of community physicians are deployed as a key part of the vaccination solution. We also argued that we needed a statewide, rather than a decentralized local strategy, to simplify navigating the system for both physicians and the general public.
CMA has demonstrated its ability to reach community physicians and shown the state how it is possible to equip those who most directly serve the communities across the state. When California struggled to get personal protective equipment (PPE) in the hands of community practices, they turned to CMA. So far CMA, with help from our component medical societies, has distributed more than 100 million pieces of PPE to physician practices across California.
CMA can help connect state administrators with community physicians to build a robust vaccination network and help the state meet its goal of getting California vaccinated.
Equity and speed are both vital components of any successful vaccination strategy. We must make sure we do not compromise one in the name of the other, and that we have a fast, effective and fair distribution of vaccines statewide.
That means getting the vaccine into the communities that need it most. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. We can simply stick with what has worked for other types of vaccinations. That means fully engaging community-based physicians so that people can be vaccinated in a place they are familiar with, under the care of a provider they trust. Millions of Californians receive care from an independent physician practice. This is the place where they get their routine vaccinations and annual flu shots. We must ensure, when supply allows, they can get their COVID vaccination the same way.
Community physician practices have the capability to administer 4.5 million doses of COVID vaccines requiring refrigeration per month statewide, according to projections based on recent CMA survey results. These practices can reach patients who may not have the technological savvy to schedule an appointment through a new smartphone app or the ability to wait in line all day at a mass vaccination clinic.
While smartphone apps and mass vaccination sites are an important part of the solution, they cannot be the entire solution. CMA is fighting to get the vaccine in the hands of community-based physicians who can most easily and effectively reach Californians where they live – particularly those that are in low-income communities and/or communities of color.
CMA leaders have made this case in hours of discussions with senior Newsom administration officials, and collected some of these ideas in a recent letter to the governor’s office. Simplifying the eligibility framework and standardizing vaccine information and data on a statewide basis are necessary to connect our communities to vaccination in a timely way. These changes will accelerate the rate of vaccinations across California and improve the experience of both vaccine administrators and vaccine recipients.
Meanwhile, we are also working to make it easier for the thousands of physicians who have reached out looking to help staff vaccine clinics in their communities and around the state. Last month, the governor signed an Executive Order that extends liability protections to physicians and other vaccine administrators – something that CMA had requested for months.
We know that your patients want to know when they will be able to get the vaccine. The short answer is – we don’t know yet. But we are fighting to make sure the concerns of all of you, and your patients, are heard. Despite the frustrations, we are making progress, and will continue to advocate on your behalf, and keep you informed of our efforts. I encourage you to regularly visit CMA’s COVID-19 vaccine page for the latest information.
Peter N. Bretan, Jr., M.D.