Should vaccine distribution be turned over to doctors? This physician thinks so

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- On March 24, the state expects to be able to open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to Group 4.

That's people younger than 65 with an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

But the state's current priority list doesn't go far enough for some.

One local epidemiologist and former public health official said he hopes state officials will eventually turn over vaccine priority decisions to local medical practices.

"The CDC had a real problem trying to figure out what to do with all of the different types of at-risk health conditions," Dr. Peter Morris told ABC11.

Morris knows how difficult it can be for the government to make health decisions. He is the former long-time medical director at Wake County Social Services.

Trained as a pediatrician, he is also an epidemiologist with a master's degree in public health.

Now he runs Urban Ministries of Wake County including its medical clinic, which treats the underserved.

He is attuned to inequities that may exist in vaccine distribution.

"The question is how can you, how can you make certain that the vaccine supply isn't skewed toward the 'haves' and doesn't properly serve the 'have nots,'" he said.

Morris said Urban Ministries' Open Door Clinic is ready to start inoculating.

"Our hope is to get that vaccine to us, constrained as we are, by the rules of how the vaccine is to be distributed," he said.

That's why Morris hopes that not only will all medical practices get the vaccine, but that the doctors in those practices will eventually be able to take over deciding who gets vaccinated.

"Physicians' offices can correctly, not biased in any fashion, identify people in their offices who have immune threatening conditions," he said, and he noted one example of the discrepancies in vaccine distribution now -- people younger than 65 being treated for cancer can't get the vaccine unless they are a front-line worker.

"Your immune risks are greater than someone who has hypertension or diabetes. And yet you don't have the magic age," Morris said.

He said he hopes the COVID-19 vaccination decisions will eventually be turned over to physicians.

But, for now, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says more than 400 primary care providers across the state are already administering the vaccine.

And NCDHHS pledges to continue to add more.

We still don't know, however, exactly when we'll move to Group 5, which opens vaccine eligibility to everyone.
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