A pharmacist helps a customer at a Walgreens pharmacy in Wheeling, Illinois.
Walgreens expects to receive its first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine on December 21 and to give shots to nursing home residents and staff in the days leading up to Christmas.
The national drugstore chain will play an important role in the early introduction of the much anticipated vaccination. Walgreens and CVS Health have made arrangements with the federal government to vaccinate employees and residents in long-term care facilities, which most states, along with health care workers, have placed high on the priority list to receive Pfizer and Moderna’s long-awaited Covid. 19 vaccines. Pfizer’s vaccine is expected to receive emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration shortly, with Moderna approval to follow soon.
The start of vaccinations in nursing homes will mark a significant milestone in the coronavirus pandemic as long-term care facilities are particularly hard hit by outbreaks and deaths from Covid-19. They are usually home to older Americans who have health problems that make them more susceptible to developing serious illnesses and potentially dying from them.
Rick Gates, senior vice president of pharmacy and healthcare at Walgreens, shared the timing and other details of the rollout in an interview with CNBC. He hopes the vaccinations in long-term care facilities will give Americans more comfort and confidence in the vaccine. For example, he said, Walgreens staff can learn more about typical side effects, such as pain near the injection site, to better advise patients and reduce anxiety or alarm conditions.
“It will also help us from an educational point of view as many say they may not get the vaccine,” he said. “The more we have from a practical application perspective, the more we can learn about the safety protocols we see with the vaccines, and we can expand to larger populations.”
The vaccine distribution could mark a hopeful turning point during an especially dark period of the coronavirus pandemic. According to CNBC’s analysis of the Johns Hopkins University data, the US coronavirus death toll hit an all-time high of 3,124 deaths on Wednesday. The daily death toll exceeded the number of people killed on September 11th and the number of those killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Food and Drug Administration has not yet officially approved a Covid-19 vaccine, but Commissioner Stephen Hahn said earlier Friday the agency was “working quickly” to clear emergency approval for Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine. On Thursday, a group of outside advisors recommended the FDA give the vaccine limited approval, which has been shown to be 95% in large-scale clinical trials.
This is the final hurdle before the multi-step process of the arrival of Covid-19 vaccines in nursing homes can be completed and finally started at the state level.
“We are ready, and in any case, excited for vaccines to help America move past this challenging time,” said Gates.
States will determine how much of their initial vaccine allocation will go to health care workers in hospitals and how much will go to long-term care facilities.
Walgreens, which works with FedEx to get vaccine deliveries, has designated some of its drugstores as turnstiles that keep cans in special freezers and have dry ice on hand, Gates said. Pfizer’s vaccine, in particular, requires ultra-cold storage at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Gates said these vaccine doses will be brought to long-term care facilities for on-site clinics, which employ two to 15 people, depending on the size of the facility.
Walgreens has more than 27,000 pharmacists trained in vaccine delivery. The company is hiring between 8,000 and 9,000 members of the pharmacy team to support the Covid-19 vaccine and other related activities like testing.
Around 30,000 nursing homes and assisted living facilities have selected Walgreens to deliver the vaccine, and the company expects two to three visits per nursing home, Gates said. That’s because both Pfizer’s vaccine and another leading Moderna candidate require two doses every few weeks.
Trump administration’s vaccine tsar, Dr. Moncef Slaoui said that 10% to 15% of study participants reported “significantly noticeable” side effects for these vaccines. For this reason, some nursing home operators have raised concerns about the number of visits per facility and said it is important to have the ability to postpone the dates on which staff are taken.
They fear that the side effects of the shot could result in numerous employees taking a day or two off if all of their staff were vaccinated on the same day, making facilities scarce for nurses and other workers.
Gates acknowledged these concerns and said Walgreens would adjust its management plans if the side effects were seen in the wider population.
“Of course we need to be flexible in how we support long-term care facilities as they must continue to care for and care for the residents of those long-term care facilities,” he said.
For many other Americans, however, the wait for a vaccine will be longer.
Walgreens is not yet sure when its drugstores will have vaccines for the general public, Gates said. He said it is working with state officials to find out which people will have priority, such as: B. Key workers and people with compromised immune systems, and identify them during the distribution.
And he knows from personal experience that some Americans are eager to claim their place in line. “Even my mom knows what number she has right now in the state of Iowa,” he said.