Nearly four months since the first COVID-19 vaccines were given to health care workers, distribution has slowly built to a network of 770 vaccination sites, many of them chain pharmacies.

While there are primary care doctors’ offices who have entered the fold, there’s frustration voiced by such family care practices that their pre-existing relationships with patients aren’t being prioritized as a point of vaccination.

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“Primary care physician practices are receiving hundreds of calls each day from their patients asking if their practice has the vaccine and, if not, if they can be put on a list just in case they receive any,” the New Jersey Academy of Family Physicians said in a written statement received Thursday by New Jersey 101.5.

State health officials said that doses of the vaccine are getting to such local, familiar offices, as much as the federal supply each week allows more sites to become active partners.

“Physician offices are vaccinating—including large multi-specialty groups with significant primary care presence including Riverside Medical Group, Summit Medical Group, Vanguard, and Virtua. Also a number of hospitals have co-located vaccine sites so all of their physician practices can send patients to central locations,” Department of Health Communications Director Donna Leusner said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5.

“Also, because vaccine supply has been limited, there are more than 1,000 sites that have registered to be vaccinators, but don’t yet have vaccine,” she added.

Of the more than 770 vaccination sites already in action, six are the state’s mega-sites, while a number are pharmacies — Walmarts (for 65 and older), Rite Aid, CVS, Walgreens and supermarkets — as well as local pharmacies, urgent cares, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and other community locations.

As vaccine supply increases, appointment availability and vaccination sites, such as additional primary care providers and independent pharmacies, will continue to increase, state health officials noted.

Out of the roughly 550,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer vaccine received in state this week, more than half were earmarked as second doses for those becoming fully vaccinated, while about 200,000 were first doses, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said at the state pandemic briefing on Wednesday.

“Next week, we think we're going to get about 466,000. Johnson & Johnson drops from 131,000 doses this week to 15,600 next week, and the week after that, as far as we know, that may go down to 5,200,” she continued.

“Our patients want to receive their vaccination anywhere they can, and we support the goal of administering as many as possible – but the Murphy Administration must recognize that primary care physician practices are able to easily identify and reach out to our most vulnerable patients to educate and vaccinate those in our community. Administration of vaccines is daily practice for family physicians,” NJAFP said.

Vaccine eligibility just opened up to those 55 and older as of Monday, in addition to another several rounds of professional groups. Starting April 19, all New Jerseyans 16 and older will be able to seek an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine, if they so choose.

“As we make vaccines even more available to even more of the population, the people who aren’t vaccinated will likely be those people who are either already hesitant, or have struggled with the system enough that they gave up. And, that’s where family physicians and the relationship that they have with their patients would really make a difference,” NJAFP Executive Vice President Ray Saputelli said to New Jersey 101.5.

The academy said getting vaccines to primary care doctors could help with the challenge of building confidence among some who are hesitant to get vaccinated.

“It is imperative that vaccine information and education come from highly trusted sources. The best messengers already have that relationship of trust with their primary care physician,” NJAFP said.

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