COVID-19: Pharmacy chains could begin vaccinating in California nursing homes on Monday
CVS and Walgreens say they'll be distributing vaccines to more skilled nursing and long-term care facilities across the United States, and possibly in California, beginning Monday. Though the pharmacies are contracted to vaccinate staff as well as residents, exactly who at these facilities will be getting vaccinated first remains unclear as California has prioritized health care workers.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has said from the beginning that the state's first round of 327,000 doses, which arrived earlier this month, would not cover all health care workers. The initial phase of distribution included:
- Tier 1: Health care workers with direct exposure to patients at acute care, psychiatric and correctional facility hospitals; workers at skilled nursing facilities; paramedics; and workers at dialysis centers
- Tier 2: Workers at intermediate health care facilities, in-home health workers, community health workers, public health field staff and workers at primary care clinics
- Tier 3: Workers at specialty clinics, lab workers, dental offices, and pharmacy staff not included in other tiers.
In a news release last week, CVS Health said that more than 698,000 patients will be vaccinated through the program in more than 15,000 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities but did not identify all of them.
Nationwide, CVS Health said that it has partnered with more than 40,000 long-term care facilities to provide COVID-19 vaccines through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care Program.
CVS and Walgreens are the two main pharmacies participating in the federal vaccine program.
What to expect in Riverside County
Workers in hospitals across Riverside County started receiving and distributing doses of the Pfizer vaccine earlier this month after receiving an initial shipment of 14,625 vials. A second shipment of 10,000 to 11,000 vials was expected to arrive by Christmas Eve.
High-risk individuals, such as the elderly and those living in congregant care facilities, are part of Phase 2, Riverside County officials said Wednesday, reiterating the importance of social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands.
Rancho Mirage Health and Rehabilitation is signed up to receive services through Walgreens but, as of mid-December, administrators weren't sure when those vaccines were going to arrive. Similarly, representatives with Caleo Bay Assisted Living and Memory Care in La Quinta, which is contracted to receive vaccines with CVS, were not able to provide additional information as to when vaccinations would begin.
Since November, however, facilities have been preparing to receive vaccines. They have been speaking with residents and their families, obtaining consent forms and, in some cases, preparing designated areas within their facilities that will act as vaccine clinics.
In a webinar released last month, Walgreens representatives noted that facilities should inform their pharmacy contacts if an outbreak, which might preclude immunizers from entering a facility, is ongoing. Immunizers and support staff, the company said, will be tested before going on-site to facilities.
Immunizers, according to CVS Health, may include pharmacists, pharmacy interns, trained pharmacy technicians, and other qualified health care professionals.
Atria, which operates facilities in Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert, expects three visits from CVS immunizers — one in January, February and March, according to its Dec. 10 update. Three Atria communities in Kentucky have already received or will begin receiving the first dose of vaccines this month.
The Fountains at the Carlotta in Palm Desert is partnering with CVS and, according to the facility, the pharmacy has already begun scheduling vaccination clinics there. The Fountains' parent company, Watermark Retirement Communities, said that "independent living" residents, who are separate from nursing home and assisted living residents, will be vaccinated within the first quarter of the new year and that residents and associates will attend vaccine clinics on the same day.
Cindy Baier, president and chief executive officer of Brookdale Senior Living, which has two locations in Rancho Mirage, said in a statement online earlier this month: “Fighting COVID-19 is the challenge of a lifetime, and Brookdale has mobilized in full force to fight the highly contagious virus and help keep our residents as safe as possible.”
Baier said that eligible Brookdale communities have been planning for the roll-out and would be scheduling clinics as soon as vaccines were made available to them.
Meanwhile, many of the same facilities hoping to vaccinate staff and residents are still dealing with COVID-19 cases and outbreaks.
For example, in the last week, Rancho Mirage Health and Rehab has had six employees and four patients test positive for the virus, according to its website. California Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation in Palm Springs has had a total of 38 residents and 34 staff test positive for the virus, but no new cases since Christmas, according to its website.
As of Friday, people ages 65 and older represent 10% of the coronavirus cases in California, but 74% of the deaths related to the virus. Nearly 67,000 health care workers in the state have had the virus and 249 have died.
In long-term care facilities in Riverside County, more than 5,000 patients and staff have tested positive for the virus.
Pharmacies have already started vaccinating long-term care residents in other states
CVS Health began administering COVID-19 vaccinations last week in Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Vermont. Vaccinations in 36 additional states and Washington, D.C., are set to begin Monday. Vaccinations by the company in Puerto Rico will begin on Jan. 4.
“Vaccinating one of our most vulnerable populations is the latest milestone in our multifaceted pandemic response, which includes testing more than 10 million people for the virus since March,” Karen S. Lynch, CVS Health executive vice president and president of Aetna, said in a press release last week. “The eventual availability of COVID-19 vaccines in communities across the country will bring us one step closer to overcoming the most significant health challenge of our lifetime.”
Walgreens provided COVID-19 vaccinations in about 800 long-term care facilities across 12 states last week. The company said it plans to continue to expand vaccinations to nearly 3 million residents and staff at 35,000 long-term care facilities as more states finalize their distribution plans and receive vaccine allocations.
“Walgreens is very proud to be a part of this historic milestone to begin administering Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to our most vulnerable populations,” said John Standley, Walgreens president. “With more than a decade of experience administering various vaccines, we have the deep expertise to support this unprecedented effort to allow our nation to emerge from this pandemic.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, CVS and Walgreens will schedule and coordinate onsite clinic dates directly with each facility.
"It is anticipated that three total visits over approximately two months are likely to be needed to administer both doses of vaccine (if indicated) to residents and staff," the department said in October. The pharmacies will also:
- Receive and manage vaccines and associated supplies (syringes, needles and PPE)
- Ensure cold-chain management for vaccines
- Provide on-site administration of vaccines
- Report required vaccination data (including who was vaccinated, with what vaccine, and where) to the state, local or territorial, and federal public health authorities within 72 hours of administering each dose
- Adhere to all applicable Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requirements for COVID-19 testing for long-term care facility staff.
The opt-in process for long-term care facilities began as early as Oct. 19, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Facilities also have the option of requesting to use their current pharmacy contracts to support COVID-19 vaccination, the department said.
Nursing homes can sign up via the National Healthcare Safety Network and assisted living facilities can sign up via an online survey they should have already received.
CVS plans to make three visits to each site to give residents and staff their initial shot and then a booster. It expects to complete the program in about three months.
“I’m grateful for the herculean efforts of everyone involved, including our health care professionals who will be deployed throughout the country to bring peace of mind to long-term care facility residents, staff, and their loved ones,” Larry J. Merlo, CVS Health president and chief executive officer, said in a statement last week.
When will vaccines be available to the general public?
CVS Health said that though it is beginning with long-term care facilities, it also has an agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide vaccines to the general public in 2021. Additional details were not available.
Walgreens is also expecting to provide vaccinations to the general public.
By June 2021, the federal government expects to have enough vaccines to inoculate every American who wants it.
Federal officials said they expect 20 million vaccine doses – enough to provide the first dose to that many people – to be distributed by the end of the year. That includes vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, both of which require two doses.
On Wednesday, however, the CDC reported that only 1 million people had received the first vaccine dose.
The California Department of Public Health has also said that it expects to have enough supplies to vaccinate most Californians by the summer. California has about 40 million people — roughly 12% of the total U.S. population of 331 million.
The Associated Press and the USA Today Network contributed to this report.
Maria Sestito covers aging and the senior population in Coachella Valley for The Desert Sun. She is also a Report for America corps member and new to the desert. Please say "hello" via firstname.lastname@example.org or @RiaSestito