Medical groups key to meeting president’s vaccine pledge

Shortly after his inauguration, President Joe Biden released a strategy to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency. While the president’s National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness offers a sound approach to address the public health emergency, the vaccination plan misses an opportunity to leverage the resources and expertise that multispecialty group practices and integrated systems of care can offer to ensure effective vaccination deployment.

In light of Biden’s announcement last week that enough vaccine will be available for 300 million Americans by the end of July, it is clear that we must marshal all available resources for a nationwide vaccination campaign. Medical groups have the capacity and capability to help vaccinate patients quickly and safely and are ready to serve their communities as part of this effort.

But we need to part of the vaccination distribution plan.

Biden’s strategy emphasizes the need for as many vaccine access points as possible. However, by focusing on community distribution centers and retail pharmacies, the plan downplays the vital role that group practices and integrated systems should have in any successful vaccine distribution effort. While these other facilities are an important aspect of the vaccination effort, the plan overlooks the experience and expertise that physician practices have in administering vaccines and the role they play in providing care to their communities.

Enlisting multispecialty medical groups in the vaccination plan in a wider role offers several benefits to patients and the nation. In communities throughout the country, these groups have trusted relationships with patients and their entire community. They have protocols and procedures in place to handle vaccine storage, patient scheduling and follow-up care, including ensuring patients receive a second dosage if required. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines requires a waiting period after administration. Medical groups can offer the space and the expertise to monitor patients for adverse reactions.

From the patient’s prospective, the current vaccine system is confusing and uncoordinated. Medical groups can immediately rectify that problem for their patients by handling the scheduling and other logistical concerns for patients. Patients would not need to navigate an unfamiliar scheduling system or travel to a community vaccination center. Instead, with electronic health record technology, physician practices can identify patients who are eligible for the vaccine and schedule them, so they do not have to wait in line.

The EHR system also triggers an alert, so case managers can follow up with patients to ensure they receive their second dose at the appropriate time. Every vaccine delivered at a group practice is one less person who needs to rely on county health departments or other community vaccination sites, freeing up space for others.

Beyond scheduling appointments, medical groups’ EHR systems also can track vaccine lot numbers and are capable of alerting providers in the event of a vaccine recall or other issue. These systems also communicate with state immunization registries, which keep public health officials apprised of how the vaccination effort is proceeding.

As additional supplies of vaccine become available, coordinating with group practices will be an important aspect of the distribution effort. We can reach the goal of inoculating all Americans, but only if we take advantage of all our available resources. Dedicated medical groups are ready, but we need Washington to make the call.