CVS, Walgreens to Give Covid-19 Shots at Nursing Homes

CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. are preparing to administer Covid-19 vaccines in tens of thousands of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities across the country, with shots possibly rolling out in just weeks.

Federal advisers on Tuesday urged that residents at long-term care centers be first in line for the Covid shots, along with at-risk health-care workers. In making the recommendation, the advisers said the move would be well-supported by a new partnership formed between the Department of Health and Human Services and pharmacy companies to vaccinate at the centers.

The two largest U.S. pharmacy chains will work with more than 50,000 centers that have enrolled in the program, with plans to start hosting clinics as soon as the vaccines are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are available. Doses should start shipping within a day of authorization.

“We will be waiting for that green light,” said Chris Cox, a senior vice president at CVS coordinating the planning effort.

The advisory group’s recommendation comes as the FDA is set to to rule within weeks on emergency use of a Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine, followed quickly by a decision on a Moderna Inc. shot.

The CDC advisory group’s recommendation isn’t binding, and must be approved by the CDC director. Additionally, states will have the ability to set their own priorities with the doses they receive. But states are generally expected to accept the agency’s recommendation moving forward.

Finalizing Plans

Meanwhile, CVS and Walgreens are finalizing their plans, making connections with facilities they will vaccinate, mapping out clinics and bracing to administer two vaccine candidates with unique requirements.

The two candidates under review have different storage requirements that will dictate the pharmacies’ plans. Pfizer’s formula needs to stay extremely cold: 94 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. Moderna’s also needs to stay cold but at 4 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, a temperature most freezers can handle.

CVS anticipates the federal government will choose one vaccine to use in nursing homes, Cox said. It could end up sending both. Without knowing which formula they will receive, CVS is developing multiple plans.

Storage Ability

If CVS receives Pfizer’s vaccine, it plans to designate certain pharmacies to store doses. CVS would send pharmacists to these hub stores to pick up the vaccines before they head to facilities. If CVS receives the Moderna vaccine, it could store doses in freezers at any of its nearly 10,000 pharmacies.

“We also know that with requirements of getting two doses of whatever vaccine this is, maintaining proper supply for that, the logistics become easier for one manufacturer,” Cox said, referring to the fact that both candidates require two doses.

CVS will vaccinate about 8,000 nursing homes, 11,000 assisted-living facilities and 12,000 other communities like residential-living facilities and affordable senior housing.

Pharmacists already administer seasonal flu shots and other vaccines in long-term care facilities, giving them practice for this type of effort.

Constant Communication

Walgreens is in “constant communication” with manufacturers and the CDC to understand what the storage and handling requirements for Covid-19 vaccines will look like, said Rina Shah, group vice president of pharmacy operations. Walgreens will work with about 6,000 nursing homes and 17,000 assisted-living centers.

Walgreens is appointing company contacts in communities across the country who will work with nursing homes. CVS built a portal where facilities can log in to schedule vaccination clinics and upload their rosters of patients.

Atria Senior Living Inc. will partner with CVS, the pharmacy it already uses in the fall to administer flu shots, said Chief Executive Officer John Moore. The company, which has more than 200 assisted-living, independent-living and memory-care communities, is trying to learn everything it can about the details, namely when CVS will start vaccinating its residents, Moore said.

“We’re doing everything we can to understand the process,” Moore said.

Costly Effort

Pharmacies will host three clinics at each facility to ensure they cover everyone. Running the events could be costly.

Walgreens Chief Financial Officer James Kehoe, speaking at a virtual investor conference in November, warned attendees not to expect the long-term care program to turn much of a profit because the cost of administering vaccines will add up. Walgreens will need to add more pharmacy staff in order to send some into the facilities.

Losing any doses – whether they expire or do not maintain cold storage requirements – will be more costly than flu shots or other vaccines.

“So we think long-term care facilities will have a low profitability,” Kehoe said, adding that could change once the effort stabilizes in a few months’ time.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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