The federal government has made a deal with retail pharmacies CVS and Walgreens to help distribute coronavirus vaccine – once one or more gets authorized – to long-term care facilities like nursing homes, federal officials said Friday.
The two drugstore chains are the best placed to send out mobile units to vaccinate seniors and other vulnerable people on site, Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at the Health and Human Services Department, told reporters in a telephone briefing.
“This is a completely voluntary program on the part of every nursing home. This is an opt-in program,” Mango said.
It will be up to the drugstore chains to figure out how to deliver the vaccines, including cold storage requirements and personal protective equipment. The retailers also will have to determine how to collect fees from Medicare, Medicaid or private insurers for administering the vaccines, which must be provided to people free of charge, officials said.
Mango said the Operation Warp Speed team did not have any idea of how many nursing homes would choose to use the retailers. “We are not imposing our solution on anyone,” he said.
Operation Warp Speed is the federal government’s program to rapidly develop a coronavirus vaccine.
Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director of infectious diseases at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that a third of coronavirus deaths in the US have been among residents of long-term care facilities.
“We believe that this plan will be the quickest and easiest way to provide vaccines to long-term care facility residents,” Butler told reporters.
Staff and residents of long-term care facilities are expected to be among the first to get vaccinated.
“We fully anticipate that both Pfizer and Moderna will have data of both safety and effectiveness of their vaccines very shortly. We are very encouraged because their clinical trials are going extraordinarily well,” Mango said.
“Part of the reason we are doing this is within 24 to 48 hours of the time the emergency use authorization is authorized, we expect to be putting needles into people’s arms,” Mango said. “This is pre-staging for what we believe will be rapid deployment.”
The CDC had asked states to submit plans for vaccine distribution by Friday. Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Sharpsten, director of supply and distribution for Operation Warp Speed, said this plan would help provide centralized management and “ensure there is comprehensive vaccine coverage for the American people.”
“Our goal is to broaden vaccine coverage,” Sharpsten said on the call.
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Earlier Friday, President Trump said seniors would be the first to get any vaccine.
“Seniors will be the first in line for the vaccine. And we will soon be ending this pandemic,” Trump said during a visit to Ft. Myers, Florida.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in an open letter posted Friday he thought his company would know whether the vaccine it is testing protect against Covid-19 by the third week of November. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel has made similar predictions for his company’s vaccine.