New York City primary care doctors begin vaccinating patients against Covid-19

Dr. Marlene Saint-Hilaire, right, vaccinates Venessa against Covid-19.

New York, New York (CNN)New York is the latest state to allocate Covid-19 vaccine doses directly to primary care doctors as part of an initiative to reach people who may be reluctant to be inoculated.

A group of primary care doctors in New York City vaccinated patients at their own offices for the first time Tuesday.
Primary care doctors have not been included in a significant way in the early stages of most states' vaccine distribution plans, and the scale of existing primary care programs has varied.
    Maryland allotted vaccines for primary care providers to reach vulnerable populations in mid-March and continues to expand the program.
      California allows physicians to volunteer to be a vaccine provider through an online sign-up portal.
        On Tuesday, primary care doctors at 40 locations in the SOMOS Community Care network in New York administered the Moderna vaccine to patients.
        One hundred SOMOS-affiliated primary care providers in New York City will have doses available to their patients by the end of the week, according to a spokesperson.
          Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the partnership in March, allocating at least 1 million doses to the network of physicians to get them to New Yorkers he says have been harder to reach.
          "This new partnership will allow New Yorkers in under-served communities to get the vaccine from trusted community healthcare providers. Together, we will break down barriers to access, while combating vaccine hesitancy," the governor said.
          Some doctors say vaccine participation numbers would be higher if primary care doctors had doses in their offices from the beginning.
          Dr. Luisa Perez, a SOMOS-affiliated physician who has served her Bronx community for nearly 20 years, is one of them.
          "If I just may say I think this should have been the first step," Perez told CNN. "Our first front line is the medical office. I will say if I had the vaccines earlier, we would have thousands and thousands of patients already vaccinated. This whole community would have been vaccinated. And I think we would have been further ahead."
          Dr. Luisa Perez
          SOMOS is a network of more than 2,500 physicians that describes itself as "dedicated to health, wellness and social services in lower-income, underserved Hispanic, Asian and African-American communities throughout New York City."
          Perez serves a predominantly Spanish-speaking patient population. She says education has helped her community overcome vaccine fears and that she's uniquely placed to offer that outside the four walls of her medical practice.
          "I've been around here for over 30 years so a lot of my patients, they see me not just in my office. They see me at the supermarket, at the fruit shop, down the block. 'Hey, Dr. Perez, you know, what about the vaccine?' And we talk, before you know it, I have two or three people joining the crowd," Perez said.
          "In general you know everybody's anxious and hesitant, you know. It's something that before they were not involved in any decision making as to whether what vaccine is good or not but because of the pandemic, they've been exposed more than in other times," she said.

          Vaccine equity in communities of color

          Nearly 74% of New Yorkers who've received at least one dose of the vaccine are White, according to state data.
          Nationwide, White people account for about 64% of first-dose vaccine doses, federal data show.
          "I spent eight hours in one site and in that eight hours, I gave a vaccine to one African American -- one African American. That was like two months ago. And all of them, all the rest, they were White," Dr. Francisco Rosario of SOMOS told CNN.
          When asked why, he said, "Probably, they didn't have access to the website, they didn't have the internet, they didn't have a computer, or maybe not savvy, especially my elderly patients. So, now this is going to be very different because this is right in the community."
          Rosario, who, like Perez, treats a predominantly Hispanic and African American community, says accessibility to educational resources and vaccines contributes to the disparity.
          "[This is] what needs to be done, because the primary care provider, the doctors will answer the question. It's not like going to the pharmacy, going to a center where a technician or a licensed practical nurse has so many of those vaccines that they don't have the time to explain to the patient. "
          A 43-year-old home health aide from West Harlem was initially hesitant to get the vaccine and still has several family members who have long been eligible but are choosing not to get vaccinated out of fear for side effects.
          Dr. Francisco Rosario
          The patient, who asked that we refer to her only by her first name, Venessa, intentionally waited for a vaccine to become available at Rosario's office. She'd been on a waiting list for months, she said.