Gen. Gus Perna, COO, Operation Warp Speed, speaks during an OWS briefing on Monday, Dec. 14.

Most nursing homes who opted into the federal COVID-19 vaccine program are likely to receive their first doses starting early next week. 

Executives for CVS Health and Walgreens, which are leading the vaccine partnership program, each said that even though the companies are expecting to receive shipments of the Pfizer-BionNTech COVID-19 vaccine this week, both plan to start administering doses on Dec. 21. 

Consent still needed 

CVS Health Senior Vice President Chris Cox told Reuters that federal officials said the companies should use the time in between receiving the shipments and administering the medication to review all available documentation about the shot, and obtain waivers from nursing home residents and their families so they can receive the shot.

Rick Gates, senior vice president of pharmacy at healthcare at Walgreens, added that the move also allows its staff to better understand the vaccine’s side effects so they can better counsel patients and reduce any skepticism. 

“It’s going to also help us from an education perspective because there are a lot saying that they may not get the vaccine,” Gates told CNBC. “The more [information] we have from a practical application perspective, then we can educate more broadly on the safety protocols that we’re seeing with the vaccines, as well as expand into larger populations.” 

Gen. Gus Perna, COO, Operation Warp
Speed, speaks during an OWS briefing
on Monday, Dec. 14.

Operation Warp Speed’s Chief Operating Officer Gen. Gustave Perna explained during a call with reporters Monday that “many tasks have to be achieved before you can actually walk [through] the door. 

“You have to work through and make sure there’s actually locations within the facilities to do it. You have to make sure that all the patients have a signed consent. We have to ensure we have the right number of vaccines available to go into each of the facilities so that we’re not going back and forth,” he said. 

“We have to ensure that not only the elderly but the staff can be inoculated at the same time, so we close the bubble on each facility,” Perna added.

Scaled vaccination program 

Healthcare workers at hospitals around the country started receiving the first shots Monday, with more expected throughout the week as shipments arrive Federal officials had hoped to begin the vaccination process at long-term care facilities within 48 hours after a vaccine received federal approval.

“Allocations for vaccines went out to the states’ [designated] locations … and they are identifying in those populations [of healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents] who [will get the shots] first,” Perna said. “We know that several states are already established and going into long-term healthcare facilities this week.” 

Perna also noted that the federal government, in partnership with CVS and Walgreens, will be doing a “scaled” start to its vaccine program at long-term care facilities in four states this week. He did not identify which four states were ready to begin the vaccination program at long-term care facilities. 

Vaccinations can also start sooner for long-term care facilities not included in the scaled start this week, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. 

“There’s no prohibition on distributing and vaccinating sooner. In fact, we encourage it sooner if Walgreens, CVS, [and Managed Health Care Associates] are ready to go faster. As the general said, we expect to see nursing home vaccinations this week,” Azar said. 

He added, “Literally by next week these pharmacy chains should have the ability to execute vaccination programs daily in thousands of long-term care and assisted living facilities and progress quite rapidly.”