Nursing home vaccinations lag behind as state moves to Phase 1B

COVID-19 Vaccine

DENVER (KDVR) — While nurses, doctors and even some first responders line up for a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, some residential care facilities in Colorado are being left in the dark.

There are roughly 1,100 residential care facilities in the state, between the 235 nursing homes, nearly 800 assisted living facilities, group homes and specialty residential communities, according to the Colorado Health Care Association & Center for Assisted Living.

Throughout the pandemic, there have been 280 outbreaks in assisted and independent living facilities, which accounts for 10% of the state’s total outbreaks. Hundreds of these residents have died in Colorado, and thousands more across the country. It’s why states like Colorado have put long-term care facility residents and workers at the top of the vaccine priority list.

“Understanding that we are in that tier 1A was obviously, to me, a fantastically smart move, and now that we’re not necessarily seeing it unfold in that way, it’s certainly concerning,” said CHCA CEO Doug Farmer. “I’ve talked to a number of assisted living communities that haven’t had outreach yet from the pharmacy providers.”

Nursing home vaccinations are done differently than every other vaccination group in the state, because they are run through the federal government through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership.

“The way this is supposed to be working is Walgreens and CVS are to be reaching out to these communities to work them through the process, to help them understand how it will work, to make sure they do their ground work in community before a clinic date, and then actually establish a clinic date,” Farmer said.

CVS and Walgreens are supposed to set three dates at each facility: one for the first dose, one for the second, and a third to make sure no one slips through the cracks for inoculations. 

And while the state begins vaccinating Phase 1B after vaccinating the highest-risk health care workers in Phase 1A, the first nursing home vaccinations just began this week, two full weeks after the vaccine arrived in Colorado.

“The first dates that I’m aware of in Colorado were on the 28th of this month,” Farmer said. “That was this past Monday. Those were the very first dates the vaccinations took place in nursing homes.”

Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment gets orders from the federal government to set aside a certain amount of doses for CVS and Walgreens. As of Wednesday, the state has received 270,170 doses of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

51,675 of those doses are put aside for the Federal Pharmacy Partnership, with another 30,255 on the way next week.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers reached out to CVS and Walgreens to ask why the vaccinations for Colorado nursing homes started two weeks after the state received its first shipment of vaccines.

A spokesperson for CVS said the following via email:

“The CDC told states the earliest they could start vaccinating in long-term care facilities was 12/21. For states that wanted to start then, we began the rollout in facilities that day.

“The long-term care facility program began in Colorado on Dec. 28, and we’re in regular communication with our facility partners. They can also contact us with any questions or concerns they have.”

CVS says it is partnering with 382 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, covering 58,874 patients in Colorado.

Walgreens is still working on a response.

CVS says it should take roughly 12 weeks to complete vaccinating long-term care facilities, but in a tweet Wednesday night, Gov. Jared Polis indicated he was told the pharmacies will be done by Jan. 11.

“It’s creating confusion for sure, and a sense of unease,” Farmer said. “Not just for the residents and their family members, but the caregivers that work in these communities.”

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