WESTMINSTER — In Colorado’s effort to get as many people as possible vaccinated against the coronavirus, the state is hoping to make better use of one of its secret weapons: the family doctor.
On Thursday, Gov. Jared Polis announced a new grant program to make it easier for primary care clinics to become vaccine providers. The program will use $60 million in federal funds and distribute it to an estimated 600 to 700 clinics in chunks ranging from up to $60,000 for small clinics to as much as $120,000 for large clinics.
Primary care clinics — the kind of places where the majority of Coloradans receive their routine medical care, including other vaccinations — are crucial in boosting COVID vaccination rates across the state. Survey after survey shows that people believe their family doctor is one of their most trusted sources of medical advice. The clinics are also among the most convenient places to get vaccinated. And both of those attributes will help in tackling the population of Coloradans who remain unvaccinated due to “different degrees of hesitation and procrastination,” Polis said.
As of Thursday, about 74% of Coloradans 12 and older had received at least one dose of vaccine.
But primary care clinics — especially small ones — face a challenge in managing all the logistical and administrative requirements for receiving, storing, monitoring and administering the vaccine. That’s where the grants come in.
The grant money — available on a first-come basis until the dollars run out — can be used to pay costs related to staffing, administration, training, equipment and technology. That means the grant money can fund new positions devoted to vaccination outreach or it can be used to pay for the freezers and temperature-monitoring devices required of COVID vaccine providers.
To announce the program Thursday, Polis visited Partners in Health Family Medicine, a primary care clinic in Westminster that is part of Rocky Mountain Primary Care. The clinic has been providing coronavirus vaccines since February, but Dr. Aaron Shupp, one of the clinic’s physicians, said it was an arduous process getting approved.
The clinic partnered with another in Broomfield to make sure it could meet the ultracold storage requirements for the Pfizer vaccine. It took multiple applications before the clinic received approval to administer all three COVID vaccines. And the monitoring and data-collection requirements added new burdens.
Shupp said the clinic hopes to be among the first to apply for the new grants. He said it will use the money mostly to pay for staff who are reaching out to unvaccinated patients and talking with them about their concerns. He said the clinic might use other dollars to help better track which of its patients remain unvaccinated.
“The easier we can make it for Coloradans to get vaccinated, the better off we’ll all be,” he said.
Shupp agreed with Polis that convenience and trust are the two key qualities that primary care doctors possess when encouraging patients to get vaccinated. He said his clinic still sees patients who are unvaccinated because they think scheduling it will be a pain or because they are worried making a vaccination appointment could bring scrutiny to their immigration status.
If a patient is concerned about side effects of the vaccine, Shupp said it’s a huge benefit to be able to provide a shot immediately after having a conversation with the patient that allays their concerns. If a clinic doesn’t have vaccine on hand, doctors who win over skeptical patients must refer those patients elsewhere to get the shot, creating another barrier to immunization.
Lastly, Shupp said there is an additional benefit to giving vaccinations at the family doctor’s office. If a patient brings a family member in for the visit, doctors can talk with — and possibly vaccinate — both at the same time.
“They’re very surprised many times to see how easy it is,” Shupp said. “Fifteen minutes and they’re vaccinated.”Primary care providers wanting to learn more about the grant program can go to copcpvax.com.