Assisted living and other long-term care communities beginning today can opt in to a federal program through which residents and staff members will be vaccinated against COVID-19 free of charge to them when a vaccine becomes available.

Assisted living operators will be able to sign up for the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program via an online survey that will be sent to them, according to the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense. The two government entities on Friday announced agreements through which CVS Health and Walgreens will provide and administer the vaccines to “minimize the burden on [long-term care facility] sites and jurisdictional health departments of vaccine handling, administration and fulfilling reporting requirements.”

“This is very consistent with our overarching objective, which is to protect the most vulnerable Americans from COVID,” Paul Mango, the deputy chief of staff for policy at HHS, said during a Friday teleconference. “This relationship is principally about getting vaccines quickly and effectively into all of our nursing homes and assisted living facilities and senior care locations.”

The program is voluntary, Mango stressed. “This is an adjunct to what other solutions may be, but this will be something that will be available to every nursing home and senior living facility in the country,” he said.

Assisted living communities, residential care homes, adult family homes, skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes will be eligible. Each community opting in to the program will select either CVS or Walgreens to schedule and coordinate on-site clinic dates directly with the community. HHS estimates that three visits over approximately two months will be needed at each location. CVS and Walgreens will bill insurers, Medicare or Medicaid for the cost of administering the vaccine.

Industry associations pleased

The federal announcement follows months of advocacy by industry associations that senior living residents and staff members be prioritized to receive the vaccine when one becomes available.

Argentum and the American Seniors Housing Association had submitted comments in response to draft recommendations for the equity allocation of a vaccine that were released in September by a committee of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. LeadingAge also had provided oral testimony and written comments on the draft report. The final report was issued earlier this month.

Friday, industry association representatives said they were pleased with the announcement.

“For months, we have been emphasizing the importance of not only prioritization, but also assistance with administration, and we appreciate HHS’ attention to and action on this integral issue,” Argentum President and CEO James Balda said. “We look forward to continuing conversations with HHS, our members and clinical experts to ensure an efficient and practical plan for vaccinating the millions of residents and staff across the country.”

American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living President and CEO Mark Parkinson said, “AHCA/NCAL urges 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.”

LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said it was “heartening” to see the Trump administration begin planning for a coordinated federal response to the coronavirus. “Sadly, this has been lacking for the past eight months,” she said.

“The vaccine is still months away, so there is time to get this right,” Sloan said. “Above all, we hope this program will help protect the millions of people most at risk. We look forward to learning more about how it will roll out.”

American Seniors Housing Association President David Schless noted that, while pleased with the announcement, the organization also will be continuing its efforts to secure additional federal funding for senior living providers, COVID-related liability protections and greater access to rapid-testing kits.

Long-term care pharmacies have concerns

Long-term care pharmacies and pharmacists are lobbying to work alongside the two national drugstore chains in the vaccination effort.

“We are confident that in the coming week, contracts will be signed allowing LTC pharmacies to participate alongside CVS and Walgreens,” Chad Worz PharmD, CEO of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, told the McKnight’s Clinical Daily. “We encourage facilities to speak with their contracted pharmacies about their capability to provide the vaccine in the early phase [of distribution],” he added.

ASCP is concerned about the possibility of new personnel being sent into facilities to perform inoculations, Worz said.

“The delicate relationship between [long-term care pharmacies and pharmacists] and their facility clients is critical to safe and effective handling and administration of all dangerous medications,” he said.

T.J. Griffin, RPh, a senior vice president of PharMerica, previously was selected to represent long-term care pharmacies on an Operation Warp Speed committee charged with implementing the federal COVID-19 vaccine acceleration program. Griffin has been encouraging the use of existing contractual relationships to help prioritize getting doses to assisted living communities and nursing homes, Worz previously said.

CVS Health is the parent company of long-term care pharmacy Omnicare.

Additional reporting by Alicia Lasek.