Now that we’ve entered a new phase of the vaccine rollout, with supply beginning to outstrip demand and all adults eligible to get vaccinated, we’re hearing from a number of health systems that their strategy is shifting from a centralized, scheduled approach to a more distributed, access-driven model. They’re recognizing that, in order to get the vaccine to harder-to-reach populations, and to convince reticent individuals to get vaccinated, they’ll need to lean more heavily on walk-in clinics, community settings, and yes—primary care physicians.
For some time, the primary care community has been complaining they’ve been overlooked in the national vaccination strategy, with health systems, pharmacy chains, and mass vaccination sites getting the lion’s share of doses. But now that we’re moving beyond the “if you build it, they will come” phase, and into the “please come get a shot” phase, we’ll need to lean much more heavily on primary care doctors, and the trusted relationships they have with their patients.
As one chief clinical officer told us this week, that means not just solving the logistical challenges of distributing vaccines to physician offices (which would be greatly aided by single-dose vials of vaccine, among other things), but planning for patient outreach. Simply advertising vaccine availability won’t suffice—now the playbook will have to include reaching out to patients to encourage them to sign up.
There will be workflow challenges as well, particularly while we await those single-dose shots—primary care clinics will likely need to schedule blocks of appointments, setting aside specific times of day or days of the week for vaccinations. The more distributed the vaccine rollout, the more operationally complex it will become. Health systems won’t be able to “get out of the vaccine business”, as one health system executive told us, because many have spent the past decade or more buying up primary care practices and rolling out urgent care locations. Now those assets must be enlisted in the service of vaccination rollout.
Health systems will have to orchestrate a “pull” strategy for vaccines, rather than the vaccination “push” they’ve been conducting for the past several months. To put it in military terms, the vaccination “air war” is over—now it’s time for what’s likely to be a protracted and difficult “ground campaign”.