Government, Drug Companies Gearing Up to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccine

December 3, 2020
MHE Staff

CVS and Walgreens are poised to vaccinate residents and employees of long-term care facilities. Dentists and optometrists are angling to be among the healthcare professionals who could administer the COVID-19 vaccines.

With approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 happening as early as next week, attention is shifting how it and other COVID-19 vaccines will be distributed and administered.

Certainly pharmacists and possibly dentists and optometrists will be playing an important role in administering the COVID-19 vaccine. HHS announced in late October that CVS and Walgreens had agreed to administer COVID-19 vaccines to residents of nursing home and other long-term care facilities. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the two pharmacy chains are on track to deliver most of the vaccine doses to about 15,600 nursing homes and 29,000 assisted-living facilities.

Meanwhile, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 on Tuesday to recommend that residents and employees of long-term care facilities be among the first to be vaccinated along with healthcare workers. CDC Director Robert Redfield must accept the committee’s recommendations before it becomes official CDC policy. But even after that happens, the CDC’s policies are only recommendations; state-level officials decide how to prioritize vaccine. They are expected to follow the CDC’s recommendations, perhaps with some adjustments because of conditions in their states, but they don’t have to.

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet next Thursday, December 10, to consider an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Based on the data reported so far, it seems very likely that the committee will vote in favor of the authorization. The New York Times reported this week that federal officials have plans to ship 6.4 million doses within 24 hours of when the FDA approves an emergency use authorization for a vaccine. The Times reported that Pfizer will be shipping its vaccines in special coolers, each containing about 1,000 doses. The coolers are necessary because the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be stored at a temperature of -94 degrees Fahrenheit. The newspaper reported that most of those receiving sites will be at hospitals that can keep the vaccine doses at that temperature or use them up quickly.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of different sorts of healthcare providers are poised to administer the COVID-19 vaccines once they become more broadly available. Kaiser Health News reported this week that professional organizations representing dentists and optometrists in California have been talking to state officials there adding vaccination to their permitted activities. Minnesota and Illinois already have laws on the books that allow dentists to give flu shots to adults, according to the news services, and last year, Oregon became the first state to allow dentists to give any vaccine.