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How will independent primary care physicians access COVID vaccines?


We’re starting a new series of blog posts on important health care policy issues that are important for independent primary care physicians. We’re calling it “The Primary,” because we believe primary care should be the center of all health care policy, and we hope it will serve as a partner blog to our collection of stories from Elation primary care physicians, “The Practice”. Health care policy at the federal level affects everything primary care physicians do, and at Elation we want to help you navigate this changing and complex landscape. Please let us know if this is helpful to you, and please send us your feedback and questions at 

The Primary:

Primary care physicians, especially independent practitioners, are struggling to access vaccines for themselves and their staff, in spite of exposure to patients with COVID. 


The U.S Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP, an independent body) issued and then updated guidance to the federal government and states in December 2020. With COVID vaccines in short supply, the first phase of vaccine rollout includes three categories. 

  • Phase 1a includes health care professionals, defined as “…all paid and unpaid persons serving in healthcare settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials…”. 
  • Phase 1b includes frontline essential workers, and people who are 75 or older.
  • Phase 1c includes people older than 65, as well as people who are 16-64 with serious health conditions, and other essential workers. 

What’s the issue?

  • With the first immunizations in late December and early January, only people who qualified in Phase 1a were eligible, and vaccines were primarily distributed through large hospitals and health systems. Independent and non-affiliated physicians and their staff were not included, in most cases. Now, states have begun to move on to phases 1b and 1c, but some medical professionals were never vaccinated in the first round. 
  • To add more confusion, states have different definitions of each phase, and some are already vaccinating people 65+ who are not health care professionals. For example, in Florida, vaccine distribution is a chaotic first come, first serve event. In all states, demand is outpacing supply 
  • Only 23% of primary care clinicians know where they’ll get a vaccine from, according to a survey of more than 1,400 doctors in mid-December by the Primary Care Collaborative. The ACIP recommendations don’t address this gap. 
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) are calling on states and the federal government to prioritize primary care physicians in the vaccine rollout. The story was covered in Stat News and Fierce Healthcare

What’s next?:

Independent primary care physicians should contact their state health departments and state chapters of their primary care association. Some state health departments are beginning to take over distribution of 1b/1c vaccine priority groups, and moving away from hospital/health system distribution plans. 

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