Dec. 14, 2020 -- The federal government is telling groups that are giving the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to wait until later this month to inoculate people in long-term care facilities, despite a CDC recommendation that they be among the first to get the vaccine, CBS News reported.
CBS News said it obtained two Operation Warp Speed documents telling providers that the "earliest the program can turn on is Dec 21st." CBS News said the documents were produced by the Department of Health and Human Services with guidance from CVS and Walgreens, the pharmacy chains responsible for vaccinating long-term care facility residents.
About 2.9 million doses of the vaccine shipped from warehouses on Sunday, and the first vaccinations are being given today. That means the vaccine would be available this week for use in nursing homes, where the mortality rate for COVID-19 is high.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar appeared Sunday on Face the Nation and was asked about timing for vaccinations. CBS News said it obtained the documents after the show aired.
In the interview, CBS’s Margaret Brennan said CVS said its workers would not give nursing home vaccinations until Dec. 21, “because the Trump administration told them to wait until that date. Why is the Trump administration asking nursing homes to wait?”
“We're not actually asking the nursing homes to wait,” Azar replied. “And we were able to have a really good discussion with CVS leadership about this misunderstanding that they had at the president's vaccine distribution summit. So I think we've gotten that all straightened out with them. And we'll be getting CVS and Walgreens vaccinating our nursing home people. A hundred -- almost 100% of our nursing homes have signed up with that program for a turnkey vaccination operation.”
Azar said nursing home vaccinations could start “any day,” and all nursing home residents could be vaccinated by Christmas.
But two sources have confirmed the delay.
Scott Gottlieb, MD, who was FDA commissioner in the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019, said the delay was caused by the need for nursing homes to obtain consent from residents or their families.
"It's a very costly delay,” he said on Face the Nation. “There [are] 50,000 new infections in nursing homes every week right now, probably more than that. And we know 20% of people in the nursing homes who are infected will succumb to the infection. So, there's a lot of death happening in these nursing homes.”
Gottlieb, who’s on Pfizer’s board of directors, said he estimated it would take about a week to get consent from the patients and about 3 weeks total for CVS and Walgreens to inoculate nursing home residents.
He said he didn’t know why Operation Warp Speed, the public-private program to quickly create and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine, didn’t get consent in advance.
Robert Garrett, the CEO of the New Jersey hospital system Hackensack Meridian Health, told Face the Nation the company was told nursing home vaccinations would start Dec. 21.
“I did hear the secretary's interview, but the latest information I have from CVS and Walgreens is that they would start on the week of the 21st,” Garrett said.
The states are setting priorities on who gets to receive the vaccine, but the CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) advised that health care workers and residents of nursing homes and other residential care facilities should be first in line.