WOONSOCKET, R.I — As frontline health-care workers in Rhode Island on Monday received the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, CVS Health fine-tuned its planning to offer it to residents and staff of long-term-care facilities as early as next Monday, Senior Vice President of Pharmacy Chris Cox told The Providence Journal in an interview.
Together with Walgreens, CVS was chosen by the federal government to provide the vaccines to nursing homes and other congregate-care facilities that provide extended residential care. In October, Cox said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked facilities around the nation to state their preferences.
“The CDC sent out a survey to all the long-term care facilities in late October, and they were allowed to choose CVS or Walgreens or opt-out of the federal program and choose to work with a local provider to get their vaccinations,” Cox said. “Our understanding is that over 99% of facilities did opt-in to the federal program.”
According to Cox, “over 40,000 of them selected CVS Pharmacy.”
In Rhode Island, he said, 193 facilities chose CVS; of those, 45 are skilled nursing homes. Asked if vaccinations will begin in Rhode Island facilities next Monday, Cox deferred to the state Department of Health, which will make the final decision. An inquiry to the department was not immediately returned.
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Cox said CVS is expected to start receiving shipments of the Pfizer vaccine later this week. The company’s pharmacies can provide the deep refrigeration needed for it and Moderna’s vaccine to remain viable, he said.
“We have the capability to store any of the manufacturers’ [vaccines] right within our existing pharmacy locations,” Cox said. “For this long-term-care effort, we will set up hubs or depots so that we’re not storing the product at every single one of our pharmacies — but that we have select locations that are geographically close to the nursing homes for centralizing the storage.”
Cox is the CVS liaison to Operation Warp Speed, the federal initiative to help develop, manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccines. He said CVS pharmacists and technicians will travel to nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities to administer the vaccines.
In weeks to come, Cox said, CVS, along with Walgreens, will begin offering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in their stores to the general public. Eligibility and timing is being determined by the state Health Department’s four-phase system.
“We’ll be setting it up as an appointment-only based model,” Cox said. “That’s to be able to tightly manage the inventory and make sure that we don’t have big lines out the door — and also so we can ensure that folks get educated about the fact that these require two doses.”
The appointment process, he said, will also make it easier “to get them scheduled for both of those doses right up front.”
He added: “Our pharmacists and technicians at the end of the day are the ones who are on the front lines. They really have made us proud throughout the entire pandemic and they’re training and they’re excited to be part of the solution.”