The extended deadline to complete the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine pharmacy partnership program survey no doubt is a relief to many long-term care operators. But if your list of questions about the opt-in program remains lengthy, you’re not alone. 

Ever since the program kicked off on Oct. 19, long-term care pharmacy provider PharMerica has been peppered with client queries about the federal program, the company told McKnight’s this week.

Questions range from “how do I correctly register” to “how do I reassure residents and families about the vaccine,” said T.J. Griffin, senior vice president of LTC operations and chief pharmacy officer. 

In response, PharMerica and Walgreens are creating an online ‘frequently asked questions’ COVID vaccine guide. They are also readying a series of vaccine communications tools that LTC staff can share directly with residents and families in their communities, Griffin told McKnight’s. News and education will be shared in PharMerica’s Illuminate platform as well, he said.

Perhaps most significantly, the company now has an official working partnership with Walgreens, to help manage future COVID vaccine delivery, distribution and administration.

Walgreens partnership adds manpower, reporting capabilities

PharMerica will also be working with Walgreens to provide ongoing education, staffing and timely communication to its clients, said Griffin, who serves as an adviser to Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine acceleration program. “Our goal is to help facilitate a safe and professional clinic experience for our clients and their residents and staff.”

Walgreens, along with CVS Health, is highlighted as a possible partner choice in the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care vaccine delivery program. Operators have an option to choose their existing pharmacy as well.

The retail pharmacy giant lends PharMerica certain large-scale capabilities, including additional manpower and the ability to assist with vaccine reporting requirements, Griffin told McKnight’s

Walgreens will also provide clinic scheduling and/or offsite immunizations for staff and residents when appropriate. And it will contribute vaccine supply ordering, inventory management and immunization administration as needed, Griffin said.  

“Walgreens has this expertise and connectivity, so this is an important infrastructure asset that we gain by working together. We will be working hand-in-glove with them to ensure the clinics are run just as smoothly as a normal onsite flu clinic,” he said. “Our desire is to make this a seamless experience,” he added.

Walgreens, for its part, says that it is evaluating staffing requirements to ensure its teams can support the administration of COVID tests and vaccines. It currently has more than 27,000 Walgreens pharmacists trained to administer vaccines, Rick Gates, senior vice president-pharmacy and healthcare, told McKnight’s in an email. That number is growing as technicians gain authorization to administer vaccines in certain states, he added. 

The company will administer COVID-19 vaccines once they become available in its 9,000-plus store locations or onsite at long-term care facilities and assisted living facilities, Gates said. “Our local pharmacists in the communities will play a central role in the administration of COVID vaccines.” 

PharMerica and Walgreens have experience tag-teaming on flu vaccination as well.

Assisted living flu vaccine program 

In 2019, the two companies began collaborating on a flu clinic program for assisted living communities in which Walgreens schedules and administers flu vaccinations onsite.

The Walgreens Flu Clinics program originally was offered in 10 states. In 2020, it has commitments in 33 states and with 140 assisted living communities. The program is scheduled to give 18,000 doses by the end of this flu season, PharMerica said.

Future COVID vaccine clinics will be managed with the same degree of professionalism and coordination, Griffin said.

Having representation on the federal Operation Warp Speed vaccine acceleration program likely was crucial to the industry’s overall concerns being heard regarding COVID vaccine distribution and administration, Griffin added. 

“[We helped the administration] understand the current challenges long-term care facilities face; from staffing to census to reporting. For our customers and clients, having a successfully deployed vaccine is key to the continued health and growth of our sector.”

PharMerica is a division of BrightSpring Health, a privately owned company by KKR and Walgreens Boots Alliance.