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Trump health officials announce plan for free COVID vaccines in nursing homes

Trump health officials announce plan for free COVID vaccines in nursing homes
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The Trump administration on Friday announced a partnership with two national pharmacy chains to distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine to residents of long term care facilities for free.

The partnership with CVS and Walgreens will allow health officials to prioritize a vaccine when one becomes available, so it can be administered to the most vulnerable populations.

There is no vaccine available yet. Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are each racing to develop one, but it will not be imminent.

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Pfizer on Friday said it would not apply for an emergency authorization until the third week of November at the earliest, despite President TrumpDonald John TrumpMore than 300 military family members endorse Biden Five takeaways from the final Trump-Biden debate Biden: 'I would transition from the oil industry' MORE's repeated pledges that a vaccine would be ready prior to the election on Nov. 3. 

Trump referenced the deal during a Florida speech on “protecting seniors” Friday afternoon. He said seniors would be “first in line for the vaccine.”

Whenever a vaccine does become available, supply will initially be extremely limited,  and vaccination efforts may focus on those critical to the response, those providing direct care, and those at highest risk for developing severe illness from COVID-19, including long-term care facility residents and staff.

Under the program, a facility will be able to opt-in and partner with a chosen pharmacy at no cost. CVS and Walgreens will schedule and coordinate clinic dates directly with each facility, and trained staff will be on hand to deliver the vaccinations. 

The program will officially launch on Oct. 19.

The pharmacies will be in charge of ordering the vaccines, and will provide all needles, syringes, personal protective equipment and cold storage for the vaccine if needed.  

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The companies anticipate that three total visits over two months are likely to be needed to administer both doses of vaccine to residents and staff, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

During a call with reporters, officials emphasized the plan will be voluntary, but is meant to help ease the logistical burden of administering a vaccine.

"This is an adjunct to what other solutions may be, but this will be something that will be available to every nursing home and senior living facility in the country," said Paul Mango, HHS Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy.

While the vaccines will be delivered free of charge, the pharmacies will be permitted to bill government programs and private for the cost of physically injecting someone with the vaccine, but will not be allowed to charge for the vaccine or for distribution. For instance, Medicare pays $17 for vaccinations, Mango said. 

Still, the program will only cover a fraction of the elderly population. The Trump administration has promised every vulnerable American will get a coronavirus vaccine for free, but they do not yet have a plan to avoid millions of Medicare beneficiaries having to pay out of pocket.

The announcement comes the same day states must submit their draft plans to the federal government on how they will distribute a coronavirus vaccine if and when one is authorized. 

State public health officials said they need more money to successfully implement their programs, and are asking Congress for at least $8.4 billion in additional emergency funding.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention itself has also told Congress it urgently needs more funding for the vaccination effort, a figure CDC Director Robert Redfield put at $6 billion last month.