Long-term care providers are being urged to participate in a federal vaccination program that would provide COVID-19 vaccines to residents and staff members with no out-of-pocket costs. 

The Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program was announced Friday by the departments of Health and Human Services and Defense. It is being facilitated through an agreement between the agencies, while pharmacy retailers CVS and Walgreens will administer the vaccines free of charge — once one or more is approved. 

“I’m moving heaven and Earth to safeguard our seniors from the China virus, to deliver life saving therapies in record time, and to distribute a safe and effective vaccine before the end of the year,” President Donald Trump said during an event Friday in Fort Myers, FL. 

“And we’re really doing it, even sooner than that. You see what’s going on. We have the vaccines getting ready to go,” he added. “Seniors will be the first in line for the vaccine and we will soon be ending this pandemic.”

The federal government has already funded the cost to produce and distribute the vaccine, explained Paul Mango, HHS deputy chief of staff for policy, during a call with reporters Friday. This arrangement allows CVS and Walgreens to bill insurers, Medicare or Medicaid for the cost of administering the vaccine.

“For instance, Medicare reimburses vaccinations today at a rate of $17,” Mango said. “They will be permitted to bill for that and they’ll receive reimbursement for that.”

How to opt-in

Nursing homes can begin opting into the program starting today through the National Healthcare Safety Network. Assisted living facilities and others serving seniors also can sign up via an online survey they will receive. 

The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living in a statement “urged 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.”

“We deeply appreciate the Administration, CVS and Walgreens for partnering together to prioritize the distribution of an imminent vaccine to our most vulnerable population. With millions residing in our nation’s long term care facilities, our providers stand ready to help facilitate this monumental endeavor,” said Mark Parkinson, AHCA/NCAL president and CEO. 

Katie Smith Sloan, LeadingAge president and CEO, added that the association “hopes this program will help protect the millions of people most at risk. We look forward to learning more about how it will roll out.”

The expectation is to begin the vaccine administration process within 24 to 48 hours of an Emergency Use Authorization being issued, according to Mange. He added that “all of this is a pre-staging for what will be a rapid deployment of vaccines.” 

Professional worries

The American Society of Consultant Pharmacists expressed concerns about the vaccination program with CVS and Walgreens, saying the federal government should utilize existing infrastructure to ensure residents and staff safety receive a COVID-19 vaccine once one is ready. 

“Long-term care pharmacies and pharmacists provide specialized skills and services to our nation’s older adults residing in skilled nursing and assisted living facilities,” ASCP Chief Executive Chad Worz, PharmD, BCGP, said in a statement Friday. 

“The delicate relationship between these pharmacies and their facility clients is critical to safe and effective use of all dangerous medications. Ensuring those contracted LTC pharmacies provide this important vaccine to their facility partners is the primary strategy in a successful vaccination campaign,” Worz added. 

Federal officials on Friday emphasized the program is “completely voluntary” for participants.

“If [providers] have that favorite local pharmacy and they choose to use that favorite local pharmacy and the state or the jurisdiction has approved that local pharmacy as a vaccinator, then they will be permitted to use that,” HHS’s Mango said. “We are not imposing our solution on anyone, but [rather] offering an alternative.”