Health officials slam Walgreens and CVS for ‘fiasco’ vaccine rollout to nursing homes

pfizer vaccine covid 19 nursing homes
Vera Leip, 88, receives a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at the John Knox Village Continuing Care Retirement Community on December 16, 2020 in Pompano Beach, Florida.

  • CVS and Walgreens have come under fire from health officials over the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine to nursing homes, CNN reported.
  • As part of the federal government’s program to vaccinate elderly people in care, the two companies claim to be on track to get the first of the two-part dose done by January 25.
  • But health officials in many states have said the progress is poor, hampered by bureaucracy.
  • West Virginia, which opted out of the program, has made much faster progress by relying on its network of smaller pharmacies with good ties to the community, The Conversation reported.
  • CVS and Walgreens did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

CVS and Walgreens have come under fire from local officials for the slow rollout of their vaccinations program to nursing homes. 

As of January 14, around a quarter of the 4.7 million doses allocated to the companies had been administered CNN reported.

In statements to the network, the companies insisted they are still on track to have the first round of the two-phase vaccine completed by January 25.

But health officials in some states have said that the process has been frustratingly slow.

The director of one LA County chain of nursing homes, Dr. Karl Steinberg, told CNN: “It’s been so much worse than anybody expected. That light at the end of the tunnel is dim.”

Mississippi’s State Health Officer Dr Thomas Dobbs described the partnership between the pharmacy giants and the federal government as a “fiasco.”

President Donald Trump’s administration left the coordination of the vaccination’s overall rollout to states, as Insider’s Hilary Brueck reported

CVS and Walgreens became the sole contractors for vast chunks of the rollout under a deal announced by the Health and Human Services (HHS) department in October 2020. 

The companies’ name recognition and corporate heft is considered a boost to public trust in getting the vaccinations processed, as Business Insider’s Áine Cain, Irene Jiang, and Shelby Livingston reported

Without an overarching federal program for distribution, most states opted into the CVS-Walgreens partnership to get the vaccine into nursing homes. 

A January 6 company statement from CVS 6 said that the company is on track with its target, with incoming president Karen Lynch saying on January 15 that it had administered one million shots in nursing homes. In total, 1.7 million shots have been administered by CVS and Walgreens combined, The New York Times reported on January 16.

A spokesperson for CVS, Joe Goode, told CNN: “Everything has gone as planned, save for a few instances where we’ve been challenged or had difficulties making contact with long-term care facilities to schedule clinics.”

But it has been beset with problems, such as cumbersome bureaucracy and poorly-staffed centers, CNN reported. 

Speaking from Seattle, where Walgreens and CVS are administering the bulk of vaccines to care homes, NPR’s Will Stone said that nursing homes are “absolutely desperate to give out shots,” but they are “basically at the mercy of when CVS or Walgreens schedules them.”

Authorities that didn’t take up the partnership are moving much faster. West Virginia – a state that opted out of the program – is leading the country in the vaccine rollout to care homes, as the Associated Press reported

Care home vaccinations there started two weeks earlier than in most states, NPR reported.

Prof. Tinglong Dai, an operations specialist at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, writing for The Conversation, pointed out that the near-monopoly that CVS and Walgreens have gives them little reason to work faster. 

But in West Virginia, each care home is served by more than one pharmacy for the process, prompting more of a rush to reach out and organize the doses, he wrote. 

They also already have strong ties to the local community and its nursing homes, he wrote – an important factor in a process that requires explanation and consent with vulnerable people and their families. 

Krista Capehart, director of regulation for the state’s Board of Pharmacy, is leading the West Virginia distribution plan.

She told NPR: “When [the vaccine] got here, we already had pharmacies matched with long-term care facilities, so we were already ready to have vaccinators and pharmacists ready to go into those facilities and start providing first doses.”

On January 15, President-elect Joe Biden announced increased federal support for the process – which both Walgreens and CVS have welcomed. 

Lynch, the CVS executive, said in a statement that the federal assistance will enable the company to administer more than 1 million shots per day – vastly more than they have managed so far.

Neither company immediately responded to Insider’s request for comment. 

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