Feds ‘Strongly Encourage’ Nursing Home Staff to Receive COVID Vaccine Before Walgreens-CVS Rollout

Nursing home staffers shouldn’t necessarily count on receiving COVID-19 vaccines through a federally backed program run by pharmacy giants CVS Health and Walgreens, and should instead seek out local options as soon as immunizations becomes available, the federal government has indicated.

The Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program can serve as a backup for nursing home employees who did not already receive a vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) asserted in a FAQ about the plan, but it should not be their primary strategy.

“It is possible that staff will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine earlier than LTCF residents as part of a recommendation for vaccination for health care personnel, including those in LTCFs,” the CDC noted in the FAQ, released late last week. “Any staff member who was not already vaccinated could be vaccinated through these on-site clinics; however, we strongly encourage staff to be vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, which may occur through mobile clinics and clinics run by health departments for health care personnel.”

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LeadingAge, a trade group that represents non-profit nursing home providers, seconded that assessment in a separate FAQ.

“CDC anticipates that public health departments will set up clinics for immunization of health care workers; in addition, they will have agreements with pharmacies to provide immunizations,” the government told LeadingAge in response to a question. “If a staff member is unable to get to one of these clinics, they may receive vaccine from CVS or Walgreens through the onsite program in the community in which they work.”

In the event that a staffer does need a vaccine through the CVS-Walgreens initiative, he or she must present a private insurance card, though the Department of Health and Human Services “intends for all COVID vaccination to be at no cost to anyone,” the CDC told LeadingAge.

Announced earlier this month, the long-term care vaccination plan will see the pair of pharmacy heavyweights handle the entire immunization process on behalf of nursing homes, from storage to distribution to administration at all participating facilities.

Though participation is not mandatory, it is free for both nursing homes and their residents, and federal officials have positioned the program as the fastest and easiest way for long-term care facilities to handle the complex task once a vaccine receives an Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Within 24 to 48 hours of the time that a EUA is authorized, we expect to be putting needles in people’s arms,” Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at HHS, said earlier this month. “So all of this is a pre-staging for what will be a rapid deployment of vaccines.”

The CDC FAQ also attempted to dissuade operators from choosing their own LTC pharmacy partners to tackle the effort.

“Most of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in late-stage testing have stricter cold chain requirements than seasonal influenza vaccine, including requirements for some vaccines to be frozen,” the CDC noted. “Additionally, each vaccine has different mixing requirements for administration and minimal interval requirements for a second dose, if indicated. Reporting requirements for COVID-19 vaccines will also be stricter than those for seasonal influenza vaccine.”

The CDC clarified that operators can continue to work with CVS and Walgreens after the initial vaccinations, but asserted that additional work may need to go into ensuring that new facility residents receive vaccines before admission.

“Depending on vaccine supply, facilities may want to work with local hospitals to ensure residents have received their first dose before being discharged,” the agency wrote. “Similarly, facilities may ask new admissions from the community to get vaccinated before admission.”

Providers have until Friday, November 6 — a week extension over the original timeline, the American Health Care Association noted this week — to opt into the program.

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