As their businesses groan under the weight of COVID-19-related expenses, long-term care pharmacists are pressing federal officials for relief funds and asking for a bigger role in coronavirus vaccinations.

Many independent pharmacies were stuck in limbo last week, watching as the first wave of Pfizer vaccine doses were given to long-term care facility staff members and residents by their big chain competitors. And they were left out of billions in additional relief funding such as that allocated to long-term care operators on Dec. 16.

CVS Health, Walgreens and some smaller companies have been favored by the federal government for administering much of the first wave of COVID-19 vaccinations to skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities. This status is in large part due to the complex cold-storage handling requirements of Pfizer’s vaccine, according to officials with Operation Warp Speed.

But now that Moderna’s vaccine is approved for use, there may be an opening for greater community pharmacy involvement, according to the Senior Care Pharmacy Coalition. The newly authorized medication can be stored safely in normal refrigeration temperatures. 

“Particularly now that we may not have to be exclusively focused on a vaccine that requires a lot of special handling, maybe it’s time to rethink the degree to which you can rely more on the existing infrastructure,” SCPC CEO Alan Rosenbloom told Inside Health Policy.

The group is asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to match at least some nursing homes to the pharmacies they have a relationship with for coronavirus vaccinations, rather than only involving the big chain players, the news outlet reported Friday.

Meanwhile, the industry is facing a financial struggle. Costs are 10% above pre-pandemic levels while revenues that are more than 20% lower, the SCPC reported. The organization continues to call for relief funding.

“LTC facilities have received more than $2 billion in well-deserved and much-needed relief, yet LTC pharmacies, which serve the same vulnerable patient population, remain out in the cold,” Rosenbloom said in an earlier statement.

“Failure to provide prompt relief to this vital sector risks catastrophe for vulnerable seniors and the LTC pharmacies that serve them,” he told Inside Health Policy.