Top public health officials and long-term care stakeholders have both praised West Virginia for how quickly it’s been able to distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines to long-term care facilities.

Last week, the state announced that it’s now administering doses to more seniors after finishing initial vaccine rounds at all of its nursing homes. Its success sent experts digging to see just how the state was able to master its long-term care vaccination program, while so many others are struggling.

“The first important point is that West Virginia opted out of a federal partnership program that relies on the giant CVS and Walgreens pharmacy chains to deliver vaccines to nursing homes. Instead, the state is relying on a network consisting mostly of local pharmacies,” Tinglong Dai, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, explained in a report Thursday.

The state, which has 214 nursing homes, quickly realized by solely using CVS and Walgreens on average just one pharmacy would serve about 25 nursing homes nationwide. West Virginia has more than 250 pharmacies and that meant each nursing home on average would be served by more than one pharmacy, Dai noted. 

The state also leaned on the pharmacies’ already established relationships with nursing homes to speed up the consent process and encourage vaccinations. 

“We have a lot of independent pharmacies or smaller pharmacies that are in the more rural communities, so in order to get the vaccine out to some of those areas, we needed to follow something a little bit different,” Gretchen Garofoli, PharmD, clinical association professor at West Virginia University, told WBUR.

State health officials also explained that after the first COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for emergency use, it knew it would be about a two-week waiting period before shots could be given, WV Metro News reported. 

“We felt like we could use that time in a better manner if we used connections in the state and opened it up to all of our pharmacies,” Krista Capehart, director of professional regulatory affairs for the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy and who helped coordinate the effort, explained to local media.

Dai noted that the moves by state and health leaders should be an example to others across the country. 

“While a lack of federal leadership has been cited as a reason for the slow vaccine rollout, West Virginia succeeded in vaccinating nursing homes because it could be more nimble outside the federal program. State and local leaders can succeed when they are held accountable and when they proactively manage the process,” he said.