Hoping to Boost Vaccine Rates, One State Has Announced Grants for Primary Care Doctors

Colorado will use federal COVID-19 relief funding to establish a grant program for primary care doctors to either boost existing efforts to vaccinate hesitant patients or begin offering the shots, Gov. Jared Polis announced.

The COVID-19 Primary Care Vaccination Program will distribute up to $60 million on a first-come, first-served basis, with applications accepted now through Feb. 28, according to information from the state Department of Public Health and Environment, which will oversee the initiative with help from the Colorado Health Institute.

Polis said the program is designed to give primary care doctors—often a patient’s most-trusted and well-known medical provider—additional tools to encourage vaccination in their practices.

Photo courtesy of CDC

"When primary care providers, especially those in smaller practices, don't have the tools they need to offer [the COVID-19 vaccine], that’s really a missed opportunity,” Polis said at a news conference.

Other states and municipalities have launched relief programs to help medical practices regain revenue lost during the pandemic, but it's unclear if any have implemented grant initiatives focused on vaccine distribution for primary care physicians.

Eligible applicants include private practices, pediatrician groups, and family doctors, Polis said—any office licensed by the state as a primary care facility that has either enrolled as COVID-19 vaccine providers or begun the process to do so.

Health care facilities can receive between $60,000 and $120,000 depending on the number of primary care providers working on-site. The money can be used to shore up vaccine distribution in a number of ways, including hiring additional staff to help with scheduling, establishing outreach programs, or purchasing supplies or technology, including IT upgrades to help with reporting or marketing materials.

Physicians said they would welcome the extra resources. Dr. Marc Moss, head of the Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine-Anschutz, told reporters Thursday that frontline healthcare workers are approaching a breaking point after providing around-the-clock care for COVID patients for more than 18 months.

Before the widespread availability of vaccines, he said, “There was a sense of purpose-driven by a common mission that COVID patients needed our help. It was what we trained to do.”

Doctors, nurses, and support staff were buoyed by the early distribution of vaccines and the ensuing dip in COVID cases, Moss continued. But as the virus mutates and intensive care units fill up once again, the “psychological distress” in health care workers is apparent.

“This new wave of COVID patients in predominantly unvaccinated people may ultimately break the souls of my colleagues,” he said. “We will continue to provide excellent care to our patients even though many healthcare workers are simply exhausted… No one else needs to die from this preventable disease.”

As of Wednesday, nearly 75% of adults in Colorado had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 67% were fully immunized, according to state data. Polis said he estimated that roughly 10% to 15% of the remaining eligible population are estimated to be “open to” vaccination, and will be among those targeted by the grant program.

“We have to remain vigilant against the virus,” he said in a statement. “We know that the best way to reach the remaining 25% is through their family doctor, whom they trust to treat them for common health issues which is why we are empowering our local doctors across Colorado to order and administer the COVID vaccine right then and there.”

This story is part of the SoJo Exchange from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems. It was originally published by Route Fifty on September 3rd, 2021.

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