Nursing home residents, caregivers who want COVID-19 vaccine should have had first shot by Monday, pharmacies say
Every nursing home resident and caregiver in America who wants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 should have gotten at least their first shot by the end of the day Monday.
Walgreens and CVS, which the Trump administration hired to deliver the shots, said Friday that they were on track to meet the deadline.
More than 2.4 million skilled nursing facility residents and staff had been vaccinated as of Saturday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly half by each company.
Although the CDC had initially been reporting how many shots distributed to the drugstore chains were actually delivered to elderly residents and caregivers – a figure that reached 26% earlier this month – it has stopped that public count, so it’s unclear how many undelivered doses remain.
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Just six weeks after the first vaccine was authorized, pharmacy chains touted their success at vaccinating so many people in nursing homes, despite the difficulties of reaching more than 15,000 facilities nationwide and the challenges of getting permission forms signed for residents who were not capable of signing themselves.
“Thanks to the dedication of tens of thousands of Walgreens pharmacy team members, we have been able to provide 1 million COVID-19 vaccinations to those who need them most in just one month,” John Standley, Walgreens’ president, said in a prepared statement Friday.
“This unprecedented effort has not been without challenges,” he said, without elaborating, “but as federal, state and local jurisdictions continue to advance their prioritization and distribution plans, we have been able to rapidly expand vaccine access to our nation’s most vulnerable populations and help our communities begin to emerge from this pandemic.”
The CDC decided late last year that nursing home residents and their caregivers should be among the first to receive vaccinations.
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The authorized vaccines are delivered in two doses, either 21 or 28 days apart. CVS and Walgreens are contractually obligated to pay three visits to each nursing home: the first to deliver initial doses; the second to deliver second doses to the previously vaccinated and first doses to anyone who missed the first opportunity; and a third to complete second doses.
It’s not clear how nursing homes – which are known to have high turnover rates of staff and residents – will provide shots to those who miss those dates.
Nursing home residents account for more than a quarter of deaths from COVID-19. The disease has torn through nearly all of the country’s more than 15,000 nursing homes.
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More than half a million nursing home residents nationwide have caught COVID-19, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services data shows, and more than 100,000 have died from the disease. Nearly as many staff members caught the disease, but only 1,340 have died, illustrating how much COVID-19 has targeted the elderly.
Cases in nursing homes peaked just before Christmas and have been falling since, though they remain well above levels seen earlier in the pandemic.
The Trump administration, through its Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, partnered with the two drugstore chains and some smaller pharmacies last fall to provide free vaccines to nursing home residents and staff. Participating pharmacies will bill private and public insurance for the vaccine administration fee.
Operation Warp Speed did not say how much the effort would cost taxpayers.
As of Friday, CVS had completed first-round shots at nursing homes in all but nine states, and those were set to be finished by Monday. Walgreens also said in a statement that it was on track to meet Monday’s deadline.
The union that represents nursing home staff said they still have concerns.
“We have no independent way of verifying what vaccinations CVS and Walgreen’s have administered,” April Verrett, president of SEIU Local 2015, said in a statement late Friday.
Verrett emphasized that the virus has hit hardest among people of color, who also are overrepresented among nursing home employees and other essential workers.
“Equity, transparency and accountability remain critical concerns in the vaccine rollout,” she said. “While I applaud any advances in fighting the virus, we must remain clear eyed and sober about the challenges we face. This means organizing our vaccination efforts to prioritize the workers and communities experiencing the worst of the pandemic.”
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Vaccination in assisted living facilities still has a long way to go. So far, CVS has administered more than 528,000 first and second doses at nearly 38,000 facilities.
The two vaccines authorized for use late last year still remain in short supply, so shots are available only to people in certain age categories or professions, though it varies by state.
Both chains will be distributing their vaccines to the general public once doses are available.
Government officials have estimated that vaccines should be widely available by late spring or early summer, depending on each state’s rollout strategy and how quickly other vaccines can be authorized.
Contact Karen Weintraub at firstname.lastname@example.org
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.
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