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Why your doctor may not have COVID-19 vaccines right now

Primary care offices were not included in the initial vaccine rollout and some still don't have doses.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Let's rewind to December 2020. The first COVID-19 vaccines were given the green light and there was a rush to get vaccinated, people lined up to get a shot and appointments were hard to find.

Now you can find a vaccine almost anywhere but many people are running into a roadblock when they try to get one at their doctor's office.

"Primary care is almost like the old show Cheers where everybody knows your name," Dr. Richard Lord said. "The staff knows them, they feel comfortable, they feel like we care for them and are going to take care of them and that we've known them over time so we're not going to do something that's not safe for them."

Dr. Lord's office is one of 24 with Wake Forest Baptist Health that has COVID-19 vaccines. He started administering doses four weeks ago - six months *after shots received emergency use authorization.

"Early on in the pandemic when we didn't have enough vaccine we didn't want to do that, now we want to make sure we vaccinate as many people as we can so that's not as much of a worry," Dr. Lord 

That's one of the reasons doctor's offices were not included in the state's initial vaccine rollout. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says vaccine distribution to offices began the week of February 8th. Dr. Deborah Porterfield with the department explained why there was a delay.

"The early rollout included organizations that could have immediate, effective reach across large geographic areas and so in the beginning it was hospitals, large healthcare systems, local health departments and pharmacies," Dr. Porterfield said.

Concerns like wasting doses in an open vial, storage and federal shipping minimums excluded your doctor from getting shots. Now, Dr. Porterfield said, primary care practices are an essential part in getting people vaccinated. Doctors can apply with the state to get doses.

"There is no doubt that there's a learning curve and, again, we are doing everything that we can to provide the services we can to make it easier and easier to be a vaccine provider," Dr. Porterfield said.  

Dr. Jeff Hatcher with Cone Health hopes to get doses at his office soon. He said he may have missed the chance to vaccinate patients after talking to them about getting a shot.

"When I give people that pitch or when other providers give them that pitch, I can't give them the vaccine right then so I had that hot moment but if instead of that when they're leaving I'm giving them a piece of paper and saying, 'Well if you're thinking about it you can go here,' that is still a little bit of a barrier so I may have lost that opportunity," Dr. Hatcher said.  

Eight Cone Health offices have shots at the moment.

In Novant Health's system 70 practices do. Dr. David Priest agreed, this is necessary to decrease vaccine hesitancy and *increase vaccination rates. 

'We think that's a very important strategy and getting more people vaccinated because, you know, as much as we think going out and doing an event like I'm doing right now and going on TV at night changes peoples minds, what really changes their minds as when they talk to a physician they trust," Dr. Priest said.

You may be thinking - I can get any other shot at my doctor's office easily, why not this one? Since the COVID-19 vaccines are being given under emergency use authorization, only governments can buy doses. Doctors can't purchase them like they can other vaccines. So it all has to go through the state, who has to go through the federal government.