Covid-19 vaccines could be coming to long-term care providers across the country at no cost as part of a deal between the U.S. government and two major retailers: Walgreens Boots Alliance (Nasdaq: WBA) and CVS Health (NYSE: CVS).

Under the plan — which is dubbed the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program — CVS and Walgreens have agreed to provide and administer Covid-19 vaccines, when they are available, to residents of long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, residential care homes and adult family homes. The program will also be made available to long-term care facility staff members who have not been previously vaccinated for Covid-19.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), along with the Department of Defense, announced the news Friday as part of their ongoing “Operation Warp Speed” efforts to accelerate the development, manufacturing and distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine.

“Protecting the vulnerable has been the number one priority of the Trump Administration’s response to Covid-19, and that commitment will continue through distributing a safe and effective vaccine earliest to those who need it most,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in the announcement. “Our unprecedented public-private partnership with CVS and Walgreens will provide convenient and free vaccination to residents of nursing homes across America, another historic achievement in our efforts to get a safe and effective vaccine to Americans as fast as possible.”

A Covid-19 vaccine is not currently available, and while today some are in clinical trials, it is not clear when one will be ready for widespread use. The deal is slated to kick in once the government authorizes a safe and effective vaccine.

The recipients of the vaccine will not bear any out-of-pocket costs, nor will the assisted living or other long-term care facilities where they reside, according to the announcement. HHS also said the vaccine will be available to rural areas that may not have an easily accessible pharmacy nearby.

Operators can opt in and indicate which pharmacy partner their facility prefers starting Oct. 19. Nursing homes can sign up on the National Healthcare Safety Network, while assisted living facilities will receive an online survey to sign up, according to HHS.

The federal government has funded the cost of acquiring and distributing the vaccine. The plan is for CVS and Walgreens to bill Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance plans to cover the cost of actually administering the individual vaccine doses, according to Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at HHS.

Once the government provides an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, CVS and Walgreens will schedule on-site immunization dates directly with long-term care facilities, according to HHS. Three visits over two months will likely be required to provide the anticipated two-dose vaccines to each building’s residents and staff.

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“Within 24 to 48 hours of the time that a EUA is authorized, we expect to be putting needles in people’s arms,” Mango said during a call with members of the media Friday. “So all of this is a pre-staging for what will be a rapid deployment of vaccines.”

Operators are not required to participate in the program, although Mango said the plan is the “quickest and easiest” way to distribute vaccines to residents living in long-term care settings.

Additionally, the pharmacy companies have agreed to:

“Receive and manage vaccines and associated supplies (syringes, needles, and personal protective equipment)Ensure cold chain management for vaccineProvide on-site administration of vaccineReport 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 doseAdhere to all applicable Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requirements for Covid-19 testing for long-term care facility staff”

Industry reactions

Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, a national association of nonprofit providers of aging services, said it was “heartening” to see the administration had begun the planning process for distributing vaccines.

“The vaccine is still months away, so there is time to get this right,” Sloan said in a statement. “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.”

However, Sloan also criticized the Trump administration for taking eight months to coordinate its federal pandemic response.

“LeadingAge has been crying out for the government to provide strategic support since the start of the pandemic,” Sloan said. “Today’s announcement offers some hope that our cries are being heard.”

AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson said the organization appreciates the plan to prioritize long-term care providers in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

“With millions residing in our nation’s long term care facilities, our providers stand ready to help facilitate this monumental endeavor,” 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.”

The American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) also said it was pleased with the announcement. ASHA President David Schless has long said that the vaccine should be made available on a prioritized basis for both residents and staff of senior living communities.

“ASHA continues its ongoing advocacy efforts to secure additional and much-needed government funding for senior living providers, Covid-related liability protections, and greater access to rapid-testing kits provided by the government to the full spectrum of senior living communities,” the organization said in a statement.



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