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Opinion | Why aren’t Michigan primary doctors involved in COVID vaccinations?

S. "Bobby" Mukkamala
S. "Bobby" Mukkamala is president of the Michigan State Medical Society.

As president of the Michigan State Medical Society, a venerable 150-year-old institution comprised of 16,000 physicians, residents and medical students statewide, whose counsel and input has been esteemed by generations of governors, state and federal policymakers and the public, I write to say only one thing.

Enough.

Michigan residents have had enough torment as we watch the excruciating COVID-19 vaccine distribution process occur statewide. From line jumpers and vaccine spoilage to ill and anxious patients calling our offices for help, we simply need to know WHY we have been left out of vaccine deployment.

It’s time to fix what’s not working – and we don’t think it’s possible without involving primary care physicians in vaccine distribution.

We know it’s a tough situation. States that have followed the federal plan for vaccine distribution have uniformly run into challenges, and Michigan is no exception. Necessary doses are in short supply. The vaccine itself often requires special care and handling. People aged 65 and up – those at the top of the priority list – are struggling to use the technology required to sign up with county health departments. They don’t know where to go, or even if the vaccine is safe for them. What they do know how to do, and have done their whole lives, is turn to their doctors for medical care.

All of these issues beg one central – and huge – question: why are Michigan’s primary care physicians not involved? Why should doses be administered in grocery stores, rather than doctors’ offices?

It would be so much easier for people to go to their own physicians – places  that are comfortable and familiar. Places where they are known, and where their medical records are kept. Places that are well aware of how to handle and protect precious vaccine liquids.

Instead, we sit idly by and watch as our patients struggle with a system that is awkwardly and inadequately built. The sickest and weakest Michigan residents are being forced to wait for their doses and worry about what may happen in the meantime.

We know this is not a perfect system. We know it will take time to make it right. But we do have to ask – how long will Michigan’s leaders wait before they take steps to leave the federally-recommended models behind and do what’s right for the people of this state?

We believe the time is right now. An entire community of physicians is ready to help do the work necessary to distribute the vaccine properly.

For an example, we turn to states like West Virginia, which threw out the federal vaccine playbook in favor of its own approach – and which has amazingly positive vaccination outcomes as a result. Or Connecticut and the Dakotas, which also customized federal recommendations to meet their states’ own unique needs.

Most importantly, however, each of these states kept their health care communities in the loop.

It’s time for Michigan to do the same. We must act to strongly encourage collaboration between local public health agencies, hospitals, and primary care providers. We can – and should – create a more robust link between county health departments and the physicians in their midst.

Indeed, we must do so if we ever hope to protect the people of Michigan from the dangers COVID-19 represents

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