This story was last updated Tuesday, March 16, at 5 p.m. to include a quote from a DHHS spokesperson.
Independent physician groups in North Carolina still aren’t getting the coronavirus vaccines they’ve been asking for — even as supply ramps up nationwide.
Why it matters: The state’s largest independent physician groups have more than 1 million patients combined — that’s roughly 10% of the population of North Carolina.
These doctors, which include groups like Charlotte-based Tryon Medical Partners, could play an important role in helping speed up vaccinations, advocates tell me.
Driving the news: Tryon, the medical practice with about 155,000 patients that spun off from Atrium Health in 2018, applied to become a coronavirus vaccine supplier in January. Tryon purchased freezers to hold the Pfizer vaccine, which requires ultra-cold storage.
- The state approved Tryon the next month, but to date, the group has only received a limited supply of doses.
- Last week, Tryon got 480 doses from Mecklenburg County, a spokesperson said.
Zoom out: Across North Carolina, larger hospital groups like Atrium and Novant Health have been hosting mass vaccination clinics. Pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS are taking appointments statewide. Counties are administering vaccines at free clinics, too.
Tryon CEO Dr. Dale Owen sees vaccination as an all-hands-on-deck effort for the medical community. All of the ongoing vaccinations are impressive and necessary — but they’re not enough, Owen says.
“Thousands more sites need to be opened up. It’s going to be needed when supply overwhelms distribution capabilities,” Owen said in a recent interview.
Speed is of the essence in vaccinating, Owen says, because of the threat of another coronavirus surge from variants, loosened restrictions and events like spring break. “We need to mount all of our assets in order to be able to tackle the problem.”
People trust their own physician with big medical decisions, Owen said. That trust is especially important when considering the hesitancy many North Carolinians have about getting vaccinated, he added. [Go deeper]
- Tryon has about 35,000 patients over 65.
- “A lot of them are sitting on the sidelines, waiting for us to get the vaccine,” Owen said.
NC Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Catie Armstrong said the state began vaccine rollout by prioritizing onboarding and allocating vaccines to providers who can administer to “prioritized populations, including to historically marginalized populations within the eligible groups.”
“We all share an urgency to rollout vaccine across North Carolina,” Armstrong said in an email. In the coming weeks, NCDHHS will be allocating doses to additional primary care providers and other independent pharmacies.
- “As the federal supply of COVID-19 vaccine increases and there are more doses to be distributed, additional providers will be on-boarded to administer the vaccine,” Armstrong said.
Eagle Physicians in Greensboro is another large independent physicians group that has about 200,000 patients. The group applied to become a coronavirus vaccine provider in early February.
- They’ve been approved, but haven’t yet received any vaccine doses.
Even still, CEO Sheri Raymer said in an email, “Eagle is confident that NC DHHS is doing a great job of distributing fairly within the state of NC as they have appropriate focus on historically marginalized populations.”