Gloved hands in laboratory, handling research instruments

Residents and workers of all long-term care settings will receive free vaccinations against the coronavirus on-site under a special public-private partnership with pharmacy retail giants CVS and Walgreens, federal health officials announced Friday.

The program will be available for residents in all long-term care settings — including skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, residential care homes, and adult family homes — according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Additionally, the offerings will be available “in most rural areas that may not have an easily accessible pharmacy,” CMS added in a statement.

It is not known yet when a vaccine(s) might be approved by federal health authorities, but the CMS statement expressed hope Friday that it would be by the end of the year.

According to regulators, CVS and Walgreens will schedule and coordinate on-site clinic date(s) directly with each facility. “Three total visits over approximately two months are likely to be needed to administer both doses of vaccine (if indicated) to residents and staff,” CMS said.

The private pharmacy companies also will be enlisted to handle all reception, distribution and storage of the vaccine(s) and other supplies, including personal protective equipment, syringes and needles.

Providers can start signing up to take part in the optional program, and specify which pharmacy company it would prefer onsite, on Monday. Nursing homes will be able to sign up via the National Healthcare Safety Network while assisted living facilities can sign up via an online survey they will receive. Providers may also opt to stick with current pharmacy providers if they so choose.

Friday’s announcements were not entirely unexpected. Federal authorities had previously pledged that any coronavirus vaccine would be widely disseminated and free to citizens. They had also said that nursing home residents would be among the first to receive it.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also had set a deadline of tomorrow for states to submit plans for distributing COVID-19 vaccines.

Federal officials said they will “continue coordination with jurisdictions, long-term care facilities, and federal partners including the CMS, and expand engagement with professional organizations including the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the American Health Care Association and Leading Age.”

They added that, “Early in the COVID-19 Vaccination Program, there may be a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine, and vaccination efforts may focus on those critical to the response, those providing direct care, and those at highest risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19, including long-term care facility residents.” 

There are currently no COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized or approved by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.  

“However, the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care Program is being established in anticipation that one or more COVID-19 vaccines will be available before the end of the year,” the CMS statement noted.

Katie Smith Sloan, the president and CEO of LeadingAge, who has been a frequent critic of the Trump administration, expressed hope Friday that progress would now come quickly enough.

“It’s heartening to see that the administration’s planning has begun,” Sloan said. “The vaccine is still months away, so there is time to get this right. We look forward to learning more about how it will roll out.”

The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living pledged that its providers “stand ready to help facilitate this monumental endeavor.”

“AHCA/NCAL urges all nursing homes, assisted living communities and other congregate settings for older adults and individuals with disabilities to register for this program immediately and before the deadline,” Mark Parkinson, AHCA/NCAL president and CEO, stated.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.