Coronavirus

Trump administration announces vaccine deal for long-term care facilities

Two national pharmacy chains will administer an eventual coronavirus vaccine to high-risk groups.

A health worker arrives to take a nose swab sample as part of testing for the coronavirus at a nursing and rehabilitation facility in Seattle. | AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

The Trump administration announced Friday a deal with CVS and Walgreens to administer a future coronavirus vaccine to seniors and staff in long-term care facilities with no out-of-pocket cost.

President Donald Trump — who polls show is trailing Joe Biden among Americans over 65 — referenced the deal in a Florida speech on “protecting seniors” Friday afternoon.

“Since the beginning our nation’s seniors have been my top priority,” Trump said during an event with seniors at an indoor conference hall where a notable number did not wear masks. “Today I’m thrilled to announce we just finalized a partnership with CVS and Walgreens ... to immediately deliver the vaccine directly to nursing homes at no cost to our seniors,” he added.

Under the arrangement, the companies would send personnel into the facilities to provide the inoculations in-house. It will be up to the retail pharmacies to schedule and coordinate the on-site clinics with each facility.

CVS and Walgreens won’t be allowed to charge for the vaccine or its distribution, but they can bill government programs and insurers for administering the shots. For instance, Medicare pays $17 for vaccinations, said Paul Mango, HHS deputy chief of staff for policy, on a call with reporters.

The announcement comes as health officials race to fulfill Trump's vow that all vulnerable Americans will get a coronavirus vaccine for free. Yet, this deal would only cover the narrow slice of seniors who live in long-term care facilities, meaning millions of Medicare beneficiaries are still at risk of being charged out of pocket for the cost of administering a vaccine.

HHS has spent the last several weeks searching for ways to expand no-cost coverage to the rest of the Medicare population, people familiar with the discussions said, but have not yet settled on a solution.

Providing a vaccine will take careful coordination. Some of the leading vaccine candidates will require two shots, and officials will need to ensure that people receive the same one. The health department believes it will take three visits over two months to administer a two-dose vaccine to seniors and staff.

The pharmacies will be required to report vaccination data — like who received a shot and which one — to state, local and federal public health authorities within 72 hours, HHS said.

Background: No Covid-19 vaccine has been authorized or approved for use in the United States, and the Trump administration and states are still working on plans to quickly distribute an eventual vaccine to hundreds of millions of people.

The first vaccines are widely expected to go to front-line health care workers and vulnerable populations, including seniors. There has been some question about whether Medicare could legally pay for a vaccine that’s been authorized on an emergency basis, as the first vaccines likely will be. Friday’s announcement with the major drug store chains could potentially address those concerns for those living and working in long-term care facilities.

While Trump has repeatedly promised a vaccine would be available by Election Day, no major pharmaceutical manufacturer plans to even submit a vaccine to the FDA for review by Nov. 3. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla announced Friday his company won’t have safety data necessary to submit its vaccine candidate until at least the end of November. Moderna, another frontrunner in the vaccine race, has also said it won’t be ready to file an application for emergency use authorization of its vaccine before the election.

What’s next: The Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to hold an advisory committee meeting on Oct. 22 to discuss the review process for a coronavirus vaccine once a company files for authorization or approval.

Rachel Roubein contributed to this report.

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