The two pharmacy giants in charge of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination program for long-term care facilities on Wednesday pushed back on reports that the rollout is proceeding slower than anticipated, while a top industry trade group reported only isolated problems thus far.
Both Walgreens and CVS indicated that the push to provide the first half of the two-dose vaccine will be complete by January 25, the companies announced in separate statements.
“Since receiving our first allotments of vaccines in late December, Walgreens has remained on track in vaccinating our most vulnerable populations, and we are steadfast in our commitment to accelerating access to COVID-19 vaccines as we receive additional guidance from state governments and jurisdictions,” Walgreens president John Standley said in a statement.
Initially announced in October, the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program will see representatives from the two retailers vaccinate residents and staff at facilities across the country.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) framed the public-private partnership as the fastest and most efficient way to handle the massive task of distributing the vaccine to the more than 15,000 nursing homes across the country. CVS and Walgreens are set to handle both the direct administration of the vaccines as well as the data tracking required for the second dose, along with cold-chain storage and other logistical considerations.
Individual nursing home operators were allowed to select their specific partner, with CVS working with about 8,000 facilities; both companies have also expanded their reach to include assisted living and other senior care settings, based on state-level schedules.
The January 25 timeline is consistent with the original plan from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), according to CVS.
“Our work with long-term care facilities isn’t a mass vaccination effort — quite the opposite,” CVS Health president and CEO Larry Merlo said in a statement. “We’re dealing with a vulnerable population that requires onsite and, in some cases, in-room visits at facilities with fewer than 100 residents on average. Despite these challenges we remain on schedule, and the number of vaccines we administer will continue to rise as more facilities are activated by the states.”
The news comes after the seemingly slow rollout of the vaccines made headlines early in the first business week of the new year; as of January 5, around 13% of available doses had been administered in the long-term care setting, according to the public CDC database.
CVS has begun releasing its own data to supplement the federal statistics, which the pharmacy chain described as 48 to 72 hours out of date at any given time; CVS’s count will be released daily in the afternoon.
The American Health Care Association, which represents for-profit nursing facilities, agreed with the retailers’ assertion that the process was on track.
“As of right now, we are not aware of widespread issues or delays with this vaccine rollout, and if there were, we would be among the first to sound the alarm,” AHCA CEO Mark Parkinson said in a statement. “We continue to assist a minority of member providers who come to us looking for assistance or clarity, but the majority of providers tell us that their clinics have been scheduled or have already occurred and that overall, the program is running smoothly.”
The lobbying and trade group identified vaccine hesitancy as its top area of focus, noting that staff generally have exhibited a mix of excitement and concern about the shots.
In Ohio, for instance, up to 60% of nursing home staff have declined the vaccine.
“Pardon the pun, but we get more than one shot at this,” Parkinson said. “We remain hopeful that uptake for the vaccine will improve as this pharmacy partnership program continues to unfold in the coming weeks and months in the subsequent clinics.”