The vaccines are here. It’s almost hard to believe. Our pandemic-weary healthcare practitioners are receiving the first doses of Pfizer’s drug. While hospital employees in the major centers were notified at the first of the week of their places in line, community physicians in the outliers have been left wondering when their turn will be.
Many community physicians run practices that cannot receive Pfizer’s vaccine because of they are being shipped in massive quantities that require ultra-cold freezers to preserve the medicine. Many are not affiliated with a hospital, even as they face patients exhibiting symptoms and coming in for testing after possible exposures.
But the state offered no clarity on this population set, so it’s been left up to local organizations like the Dallas County Medical Association to sort out. DCMS CEO Jon Roth was intent on finding a solution for physicians who do not have hospital affiliations. “There was a lot of head-scratching,” Roth says. “How are we going to get this? People were kicking around different ideas.”
Roth worked with Kroger, which had been running testing sites in South Dallas and had applied for a supply of vaccines to distribute to their pharmacies, and set up an arrangement for Dallas County Medical Society physician members and their medical teams to be vaccinated at Kroger pharmacies during closed-door vaccination sessions. Along with Kroger, DCMS lobbied the state to allow Kroger to add more vaccines to accommodate 4,500 independent physicians. “Regardless of your specialty, your practice has the public coming in, and you have to assume some number of those are positive or present positive,” Roth says. “Anytime the public comes into those offices, that’s a point of risk.”
These community physicians will also be a part of vaccine distribution as different versions come online. Estimates now say that the generally healthy population will receive vaccination by the end of the spring. Many of these community physicians will distribute alternate forms of the vaccines that come in smaller doses and don’t require ultra-cold freezers.
Dallas County’s model may serve as a model of other counties around the state. Roth presented his plan to other regions and encouraged them to reach out to local pharmacies to set up similar arrangements for their independent physicians.
Though DCMS physicians know they eventually will receive the vaccine, exactly when is still unclear. Hospitals are the priority at the moment. Still, community physicians should know within the week when they will be vaccinated via Kroger. DCMS has already made a heat map of its members to find the most convenient pharmacies and is awaiting the call. “We are waiting for the state to say, ‘The calvary is coming on these trucks, and they’ll show up on these days’ That’s the next step.”