Opinion: An overlooked way to boost vaccinations

We are now at a point where the strategies to maximize vaccination numbers are ineffective at reaching communities such as mine.

In my small community of Brooklet, just outside of Statesboro, there have been potentially hundreds of missed opportunities for individuals to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

I’m told almost daily by my patients that they are willing and wanting to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but tell me “I’ll only get it if I can get it from you.” As a family physician for the past 22 years, being forced to the sidelines and unable to provide care and treatment to my patients during a hundred-year pandemic has been difficult to say the least.

I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, but have spent almost my entire adult life in Georgia outside of 4 years of U.S. Air Force service in Montgomery, Alabama. I was educated at the University of Georgia and Medical College of Georgia.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Needless to say, I love this state and the people in it, and caring for one’s neighbor is what attracted me to family medicine. The rural town where I practice is a close-knit community, where it’s an honor to be able to care for multiple generations, but this has been a challenge since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m traditionally a critical part of the medical infrastructure of my community. Unfortunately, my ability to access the COVID-19 vaccine and help protect my patients from this pandemic has been hindered because I do not have access to critical vaccines.

Our nation developed multiple vaccines to a never-before-seen disease within a year of its discovery. With the help of both the private sector and federal and state governments, we manufactured, delivered, and administered hundreds of millions of doses to Americans across the nation.

These efforts to develop and administer the vaccine so quickly should be commended. However, certain populations are being left behind. We are now at a point where the strategies to maximize vaccination numbers are ineffective at reaching communities such as mine.

Decisionmakers have seen the value in getting vaccine to rural populations by using independent pharmacies. It’s extremely frustrating for me as a health care provider to see others with access to a lifesaving vaccine that I am unable to provide to my patients. Every single year, I provide hundreds of vaccines. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel – the infrastructure to deliver vaccines to me and my patients is already in place.

Yet months after vaccination efforts started, I still have no meaningful access to the COVID-19 vaccine. If the nation faces a similar crisis in the future or moves to scenario where vaccine boosters are required, it would be of great benefit to include office-based physicians.

Part of my role as a physician is developing a trusted relationship with each of my patients. It pains me every time I’m asked when I’ll have vaccine available for them because, right now, the answer is, “I don’t know.”

As a country, we are missing out on getting people vaccinated by not using offices like mine and other similar offices.

W. Scott Bohlke, M.D. owns and manages Bohler Family Practice in Brooklet, Ga. He is a board-certified family practice physician.