Federal health officials on Friday unveiled a plan to get COVID-19 vaccines to nursing home residents free of charge, enlisting two national pharmacy chains to help.
Under the voluntary program, trained staff from CVS and Walgreens would deliver the vaccines to each nursing home and administer shots.
Assisted living facilities and residential group homes can also participate, and nursing home staffers can be vaccinated, too. Needles, syringes and other necessary equipment will be included.
The distribution program is contingent on the Food and Drug Administration authorizing a vaccine.
The idea is to give states an all-inclusive system for vaccinating their most vulnerable residents, according to Paul Mango, a senior policy adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services.
“We are trying to eliminate all potential barriers to getting folks safe and effective vaccines,” Mango said.
Counting nursing homes and other kinds of group residences, the nation has more than 22,000 such facilities.
People in nursing homes and other long-term care settings account for less than 1 percent of the U.S. population, but they represent about 40 percent of the deaths from COVID-19, with more than 83,600 fatalities.
The vaccination plan for nursing homes has been set up under the auspices of Operation Warp Speed, a White House-backed campaign to quickly produce and distribute hundreds of millions of doses of approved vaccines, enough for every American.
The goal is to shrink the production timetable from years to months. The effort involves HHS and the Defense Department, as well as drugmakers and other private companies.
Mango said he anticipates that if a vaccine is approved this year, initial supplies will be limited. Availability will improve markedly in the first three months of 2021, he said.
HHS is fielding an online survey for nursing homes to assess their interest in the vaccine distribution program, but the allocation of vaccines will be done through state and territorial governments.
Officials say vaccines will be on their way to nursing homes within 24 to 48 hours of FDA approval.
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities will not be charged for the program. CVS and Walgreens will be reimbursed for administering the shots at standard Medicare rates, officials said.
The use of retail chain pharmacies has prompted some concerns, because nursing homes typically deal with specialized pharmacies and not big drugstores.
Mango said the plan would accommodate nursing homes that want to continue to work with specialized pharmacies.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar said the goal of the partnership with CVS and Walgreens is to provide convenient and free vaccination to nursing homes across the country.
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