En español | The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced that it will partner with drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens to provide and administer coronavirus vaccines, once approved, to people living and working in long-term care facilities, on site and with no out-of-pocket costs.
This population has borne the brunt of COVID-19 since the start of the outbreak. More than 84,000 long-term care residents and staff have died from the illness, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And nearly half of U.S. nursing homes have had staff infected with COVID-19, an AARP analysis found.
"Early in the COVID-19 vaccination program, there may be a limited supply of vaccine. And our planning efforts need to focus on those at highest risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19, as well as on those who are critical to the response and providing direct patient care,” Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), explained in an Oct. 16 media call with reporters. “The highest risk are those in long-term care facilities.”
Under the new federal initiative, called Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, CVS and Walgreens will work directly with facilities to schedule and coordinate on-site clinic dates. (Some approved vaccines may require two shots, weeks apart.) The companies will also be responsible for managing vaccine supplies (syringes, needles, personal protective equipment, etc.), keeping the vaccine at the appropriate temperature, and reporting vaccine data to state, local and federal public health authorities.
"Our goal is to broaden vaccine coverage beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar facilities where vaccines normally occur,” Army Maj. Gen. Chris Sharpsten told reporters. Sharpsten is the head of supply and distribution for Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort focused on the rapid development and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
"We are making every effort to ease the logistical burden of administering a vaccine,” he added.
No cost to residents, workers, care facilities
The shots will come at no cost to the recipients or facilities, federal officials stressed. Most of the costs are funded by the government; CVS and Walgreens will be able to bill insurers and Medicare for the administration of the vaccines. A federal fund will cover administration charges for uninsured persons.
The program is not mandatory: Each long-term care facility has to opt in and choose the pharmacy partner it prefers to have on site. “But this will be something that will be available to every nursing home and senior living facility in the country,” said Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at HHS.
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No coronavirus vaccine has received approval yet from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but a few are inching closer. Four vaccine candidates are currently in phase 3 clinical trials in the U.S. And while two are currently paused while adverse reactions among participants are evaluated, some experts predict the trials will yield results on safety and efficacy before the end of this year or early next year.
Nursing homes can sign up for the new program via the National Healthcare Safety Network, HHS said. And assisted living facilities can sign up through an online survey they will receive.