Image of Gen. Gus Perna, COO, Operation Warp Speed
Gen. Gus Perna, COO, Operation Warp Speed

A majority of states have told federal health officials that they want the first doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to go to long-term care facilities.

“As many as 36 states have already told the CDC, as of my update this morning, that they want initial doses to go to long-term healthcare facilities,” General Gustave F. Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said in a Wednesday briefing. “The CDC, Walgreens, CVS are working those plans right now.”

Although putting the long-term care industry first in line is precisely what advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended, states are not bound to that advice. The final vaccine distribution decisions are in the hands of governors and public health officials.

“[W]e’re implementing the state’s plans to their priorities. So their determination of, ‘I’d like it to go to the long-term healthcare facilities’ has to be identified first,” Perna explained.

Where is assisted living’s place in line?

Meanwhile, LeadingAge has reported that it is hearing mixed messages about whether assisted living communities and continuing care retirement / life plan communities will be included among the very first recipients. 

The industry advocate has reported that members “around the country” have been contacted by their COVID-19 pharmacy partner (CVS Health or Walgreens) and told that “no matter what the state includes in its plan,” the retail giants have been directed by the CDC to “start with skilled nursing facilities first, then move to other long-term care residential providers.”

But the CDC since has told LeadingAge that this information is not accurate, the organization stated in its Monday COVID-19 member report. 

“The CDC and the federal government recognize that there is limited initial supply of vaccine, but have given states the flexibility to either start with SNFs only or start with a wider group of long-term care, including life plan communities and/or assisted living,” LeadingAge wrote.

Industry leaders have made a steady effort to keep long-term care at the top of federal and state officials’ minds.

“This is an ever-evolving situation, and governors may continue to change their distribution plans,” David Gifford, M.D., MPH, chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, said in a Monday news conference. “We are urging all state public health officials to follow the CDC recommendations by including long-term care residents and staff in the first phase of vaccine distribution.”