March 02, 2021

BC is embarking on a provincial vaccination campaign that will be larger and more complex than anything BC has ever done before.  A few weeks before announcing the details of the public vaccination campaign, the doctor leading the provincial roll-out, Dr Penny Ballem, spoke to physicians, government, and health authority partners at a GPSC workshop. The key question on everyone’s mind was: How can primary care assist, support, and contribute to the success of the vaccination campaign?  Dr Ballem’s response:  “We need you. Doctors are and will continue to play a critical role in this campaign which will evolve and change over time.”

A mammoth exercise: Doing things differently

Operationalizing the plan to vaccinate the majority of BC’s population is the big challenge now, said Dr Ballem. The scope and complexity of the job means BC is not able to use the same community-led approach that worked well in the flu vaccination campaign.  

Over the next few months, the emphasis will be on a centrally coordinated and carefully managed mass immunization approach led by the province and health authorities. This approach will include a streamlined digital record keeping platform to track the delivery of the vaccine. In urban centers, vaccines will be delivered in large public venues, while smaller communities may see vaccines delivered from physicians’ offices. However, once supplies increase significantly with vaccines that are easier to store,  doctors’ offices will be able to do immunizations. The timing on this has yet to be determined, watch for updated information as the campaign unfolds.

The role of family doctors 

While organization and logistical planning will not be taking place in a full partnership space, community physicians and Divisions of Family Practice will play a foundational role in the success of the vaccination campaign and ensuring the health care system continues to have capacity to meet the needs of patients during the ongoing pandemic. 

The role of family doctors and other health care professionals and Divisions of Family Practice will include:

    • Health authorities will reach out to Divisions of Family Practice to provide input into the planning based on their experience and knowledge. 
    • Doctors will be recruited by health authorities to help deliver vaccines. Many others will be involved in vaccine administration, and doctors may also be asked to provide oversight of patients in the immunization clinics. Watch for information on how to get participate in clinics.
    • Family practices are encouraged to identify their elderly and vulnerable patient panel members and reach out with information on when and how to register.
    • Doctors are a trusted and credible source of information about vaccines for the public and their patients. Patients will look to their family doctors and other health care professionals for reliable information about the vaccines. Divisions, family physicians, and nurse practitioners will play a critical role in supporting patients with information and advice about the vaccine, monitoring for adverse reactions, and helping with understanding of the immunization planning and process. 

Workshop discussion: What doctors say they need   

Participants in the workshop participated in discussion groups, then gathered together to focus on what doctors and other health care professionals need in order to be support their patients and the success of the vaccination campaign.

The single biggest request was for information and communications materials to support physicians in their conversations with patients. Physicians said they need to be advised about upcoming timing and processes around the campaign, so they understand how they can help identify gaps and support the success of the campaign and help their patients. They also want materials and information they can share with patients to overcome vaccine hesitancy. Government representatives acknowledged this need and Doctors of BC is collating and developing information for its COVID-19 web resource page. In addition, it was noted that communications with the public will not be left up to primary care practices alone.   Considerable attention will be paid to public and community messaging, such as  engaging role models and faith communities, to help ensure culturally relevant approaches and materials. There will be a focused effort to engage leaders of diverse communities on vaccine hesitancy to increase confidence in the vaccine, and mobilize the public. 

Several physicians raised concerns over the volume of patients calling their clinics to request information on the COVID-19 vaccine. This consumes valuable time that could be otherwise spent on patient care. As a result, a central call center will be set up within the next few weeks, in addition to an online booking system for people to register and book their appointments.  Details with booking information are available at Vaccine appointments for seniors - Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca).

Other participants noted the need for a mechanism to report adverse effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as a method to identify the most responsible provider (MRP) of a patient in the provincial immunization registry. The Ministry of Health will consider these suggestions and will communicate information as it becomes available.    

Working together to end the pandemic

Doctors of BC and the GPSC will provide more information to family doctors as details about the immunization campaign become available.  The overall takeaway from the meeting is that, while our world will look different post-pandemic, the goal is to give everyone a chance to spend time with family and friends, go to work, go to school,  and do the things that are so important to the well-being of British Columbians.

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Do you have a question or comment about this article? Email us at covid19@doctorsofbc.ca