Closeup image of senior woman receiving a vaccination; Credit: Getty Images

The federal government’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program was a boon for quickly getting COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of nursing home residents at highest risk of contracting the virus, according to state and local health officials and other stakeholders recently interviewed by the Government Accountability Office. However, overestimates on the number of vaccine doses needed for the program amid limited supply also led to delays in other vaccination programs, the GAO noted in a report released Thursday reviewing federal vaccination efforts.

The 68-page document reviews information from interviews and written responses from health officials from five selected jurisdictions — four states (Connecticut, Georgia, Minnesota, and Washington) and one city (Philadelphia). The majority of stakeholders praised the Pharmacy Partnership for LTC program, which included participation by more than 62,000 long-term care facilities throughout the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The GAO noted, however, that stakeholders identified a couple of challenges with the program’s coordination, particularly when vaccine supply was limited in late 2020 and early 2021. The group cited higher than needed vaccine allocation for the program, due to an overestimate by the CDC.

“For example, health officials from one state said CDC set aside about 40,000 doses a week from their state’s overall allocation to be allocated to the LTC pharmacy program,” report authors noted. “However, not all of the doses were used by the LTC pharmacy program because the number of residents and staff at long-term care facilities being vaccinated was not as high as CDC had expected. These officials said the inability to use those doses elsewhere affected their ability to vaccinate other residents in their state in a timely manner.” 

Stakeholders also pointed to a lack of initial planning for continuing vaccinations at long-term care facilities. Initially, the CDC did not have a plan in place to vaccinate new staff and residents of long-term care facilities who arrived after pharmacy partners had completed their three required clinics for the federal LTC pharmacy program, several health officials noted. In mid-March 2021, however, the agency began working with four pharmacy partners to provide a direct allocation of vaccine doses to long-term care pharmacies participating in the CDC’s retail pharmacy program

The GAO report included several recommendations for improvement, including that the CDC and the Health Resources and Services Administration obtain input from and share lessons learned with key stakeholders as they conduct their future reviews.