The Importance of Primary Care Providers in COVID-19 Vaccination

Investigator Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH, discusses his team's recent findings showing a positive link between primary care providers per capita and community vaccination rates.

Primary care physicians play a vital role in enacting public health practices at the community level—family medicine providers, pediatricians, and internists are consistently among the most available sought-after health practitioners in US communities.

It comes at no surprise that new data last week showed US counties with greater primary care providers per capita reported greater rates of vaccination against COVID-19.

The findings, reported by Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH, of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues, showed benefit of frontline physicians in improving vaccine acceptance among people—especially in regions with lesser healthcare literacy and resources and regardless of political affiliations.

In an interview with HCPLive, Chan discussed his team’s findings and the evidence they provide to the role of primary care providers in bolstering US health practices including vaccination. As he noted, matters including individual COVID-19 vaccination have been laden with driving factors including political interests and geographical area—measures which his team to into account in their research.

“I think there’s certainly been a lot of different factors that people have attributed to variation in vaccination rates across the country,” Chan explained. “We have to account for those factors and try to tease out whether there is still some independent effect of primary care physician capacity as playing a role in vaccination rates.”

Chan also discussed the key role of pediatricians at a time when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is nearing a potential decision on authorization of COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 6 months to 4 years old—the youngest possible age group for vaccine indication. He anticipates the primary care provider role will be “increasingly important” as COVID-19 vaccines become available for the youngest patients.

“I think that’s particularly true for the pediatric age group, where there’s a real emphasis for pediatric populations to be getting vaccines potentially from the pediatricians as part of other vaccinations they might be receiving in their usual care,” Chan said.

Lastly, Chan discussed how the findings support the need for bolstered recruitment and retention of primary care providers in the US—a field which has been strife with burnout and decreasing interest among prospective medical school students.

“Ensuring that we have a strong primary care workforce will be something that needs more attention,” he said. “It’s probably going to require a multi-pronged approach with respect to encouraging medical school and allied health professionals and workforce development through incentivizing people to go into primary care, and also trying to ensure practicing primary care is rewarding.”