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CVS, Walgreens Will Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines to Long-term Care Facilities

Pharmacist or nurse giving an older adult female patient an injection.

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Key Takeaways

  • The federal government is trying to ensure that residents at long-term care facilities will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine quickly and affordably.
  • CVS and Walgreens are teaming up with the government to make a plan to distribute a vaccine to residents of long-term care facilities as soon as it is approved.
  • Through the opt-in program, the pharmacies will visit long-term facilities, offering the vaccines for no out-of-pocket cost to residents.

A new partnership between the federal government and two major pharmacy chains intends to make it easier for residents at long-term care facilities (LTCFs) to receive a COVID-19 vaccine quickly and affordably once it's approved.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Defense (DoD) recently announced deals with CVS and Walgreens to provide and administer COVID-19 vaccines to LTCF residents, including those who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

What's the Plan?

Residents and staff of LTCFs that are in the partnership will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine without paying anything out of pocket.

According to a statement announcing the partnership, the goal is to “minimize the burden on LTCF sites and jurisdictional health departments of vaccine handling, administration, and fulfilling reporting requirements."

LTCFs do not have to participate in the program and can use existing pharmacy contracts to support vaccination efforts.

CVS and Walgreens will schedule and coordinate clinic dates at the facilities. The pharmacies will need three visits over about two months to administer both vaccine doses. Per the plan, the chains will also be responsible for reporting vaccination data to authorities within 72 hours of administering each dose.

Multiple on-site visits ensure that people who might have missed out on the first round get a chance to be immunized.

Currently, no COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. However, the plan is being established in anticipation that one or more COVID-19 vaccines will be available before the end of the year.

Will the Plan Work?

Whether the plan will actually minimize the burden will depend on how the vaccine is distributed and prioritized, how much work is involved for facility staff, as well as how complete the instructions are, Alice Bonner, PhD, RN, FAAN, an adjunct faculty member at the Brown University School of Public Health, tells Verywell.

“When test kits were recently sent to many nursing homes, some reportedly did not have all the required supplies or clear instructions for staff; therefore successful implementation was variable,” Bonner says.

The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) believes that the partnership will ease the burden on LTCF sites. “This federal program offers consistency,” a spokesperson for the AHCA/NCAL tells Verywell.

Each state will take a different approach to a distribution plan, but the group is confident that states will prioritize long-term care residents. “At the same time, CVS and Walgreens are handling the many reporting requirements that go along with the vaccine, which will significantly alleviate the burden from long-term care providers," says the AHCA/NCAL spokesperson.

Vaccine Refusal

Healthcare providers may recommend the vaccine for most residents and staff at LTCFs, while some individuals living and working in these facilities may request one. However, not everyone will. If residents or LTCF employees do not want a COVID-19 vaccine, each state will have to decide how they will handle the refusal.

Vaccine refusal issues are “long-standing and have yet to be fully resolved, in terms of potential for increased risk and failure to protect high-risk populations when there is a high rate of refusals,” Bonner says.

“States may make different decisions about who may work in nursing homes if staff refuse the COVID-19 vaccine," Bonner says. "We are still learning about the evidence on this particular sub-topic."

How Does This Compare to Previous Strategies?

In the past, the type of vaccine dictated whether or not it would go through a private pharmaceutical company for distribution. “In some states, vaccines such as influenza may be ordered through the department of public health or other state agency," Booner says. "And the nursing homes and pharmacies both work with a state agency on inventory and distribution. This varies from state to state."

In this case, the federal government has pre-purchased millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which means that the distribution will be different than it would be for a vaccine coming from a private pharmaceutical company. 

The AHCA/NCAL spokesperson says that the distribution method is similar to what was used for the H1N1 vaccine—where the government purchased all of the vaccine and allocated it to states to then distribute.

What This Means For You

Long-term care facilities must enroll in the program by November 6, 2020, but they can also opt out and make use of the partnerships they already have with pharmacies to facilitate vaccine distribution. If you have a loved one in a long-term care facility or you live in/work at one, you might be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine through the partnership with CVS and Walgreens once one becomes available.

Prioritizing Vaccine Distribution

The existence of the partnership doesn’t necessarily ensure that LTCF patients will be the priority, as these discussions are still ongoing. However, the AHCA/NCAL believes that LTCF residents will be among the first to get vaccinated once one is available.

According to what other organizations and leaders are saying, the prioritization of long-term care residents and other at-risk populations may indeed prove to be the case.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) have released plans for vaccine distribution. The latter ranks who should get the vaccine and when, as well as sets out a tiered priority schedule.

According to a report by Reuters, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said back in October that healthcare workers and high-risk populations—including some residents in long-term care facilities—would get priority to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it is approved and available.

However, a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) identified several key issues concerning vaccine distribution, including out-of-pocket costs, education, and funding.

The KFF report, which cites the HHS release about the CVS and Walgreens partnership, reads: “A complicated patchwork of rules and regulations across jurisdictions could result in differential access to vaccines and varying levels of success in controlling COVID-19. Some policy considerations include whether or not vaccine mandates or changes in the scope of practice regulations regarding who can administer a COVID-19 vaccine will be pursued.”

Will a Vaccine Help LTCF Residents?

"No data exists on any of the [vaccine] candidates yet," Vincent Mor, PhD, a professor of health services, policy, and practice at Brown University, tells Verywell. "Presumably once approved, it will be considered effective in reducing disease severity in the people on whom the vaccine was tested. But whether adverse events will be higher for frail, older people remains to be seen."

Signup Deadline Looms 

The organization's main concern at the moment is that LTCFs participate and designate their preferred choices with the CDC by the deadline of November 6, 2020.

“We urge all nursing homes, assisted living communities, and other congregate settings for older adults and individuals with disabilities to register for this program immediately,” says the AHCA/NCAL spokesperson. “We’ll have to continue to monitor vaccine candidates and their efficacy among our population, as well as educate staff, residents, and family members about the importance of vaccines. Long-term care facilities will not be able to have any sense of normalcy until a vaccine is administered, and we know that everyone is eager for that to happen.”

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Article Sources
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