Residents in more than 17,000 California long-term care facilities were supposed to be among the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine under the state’s distribution plan, but data from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), CVS and Walgreens show most assisted-living homes have not yet had a vaccination clinic, and about half still don’t even have a clinic scheduled, prompting fears that thousands more residents will die before vaccination efforts are complete.
In a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom’s office dated Jan. 18, a coalition of organizations representing California counties and county health officials laid out the hurdles they say they’re facing during the vaccine rollout, including slow progress at the state’s long-term care facilities.
“Where doses would have otherwise flowed directly to the state to allocate, instead is allocated by the federal government to CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate long-term care and other congregate living facilities,” the letter stated. “To date, very few doses have been administered by those entities, and local health jurisdictions and individual providers have in some cases stepped in and used their allocated doses for this population to prevent more illness and death.”
The letter was signed by representatives from the California State Association of Counties, Urban Counties of California, and the County Health Executives Association of California, among others.
Their recommendations include:
- County access to detailed pharmacy vaccination data
- A faster and more predictable flow of vaccines to county health departments
- Improvements to the state’s vaccination reporting system, which they say is leading to data lags
- And more accountability for the pharmacies and long-term care facilities participating in vaccination efforts.
CVS has partnered with 15,000 long-term care facilities in California and says about 15% have had their first vaccination clinic. Walgreens has partnered with 2,109 facilities and have had clinics for about 26%.
And according to a database from CDPH obtained by NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit, about half of all long-term care facilities participating in the federal program remain unscheduled for their first vaccination clinic. That’s down from the numbers reported by the state on Jan. 10, which showed more than 80% of facilities did not have a vaccination clinic date.
While just about all of the state’s skilled nursing facilities enrolled in the federal Pharmacy Partnership Program have had at least one vaccination clinic, it’s becoming increasingly clear that getting shots to residents in the state’s assisted living facilities will be a longer effort.
The CDPH data shows only about half of the state’s assisted-living facilities have a vaccination clinic date on the calendar. And even for those that do, it will be at least April before many residents get their second shot, according to the data.
CVS says facilities need a total of three visits to complete the vaccination process for their residents. The first, to administer the first dose. The second, to administer the second shot. And the third, to administer second shots to any resident who got their first shot during the second clinic.
Without access to detailed data from the Pharmacy Partnership Program, county representatives say they don’t know when and where to step in if long-term care vaccinations are moving too slowly.
“You cannot attack a public health and logistics challenge blindfolded,” said Graham Knaus, Executive Director of California State Association of Counties. “You have to have complete information about who’s doing what in the community. And that has not been true for the beginning part of our vaccination effort.”
CVS said in a statement that vaccination efforts are on schedule and the criticism of the Pharmacy Partnership Program from county representatives and long-term care facility watchdogs is unwarranted.
“Criticism of our long-term care vaccination program in the letter from certain California county executives is misinformed and not accurate,” a spokesperson for CVS said in a statement. “The state activated skilled-nursing facilities on Dec. 28 and we will finish administering the first doses for all 499 of these California facilities that chose to partner with CVS Pharmacy by Jan. 25. California activated assisted-living and other long-term care facilities on Jan. 11, and over the coming week we’ll complete first doses in nearly 40% of these additional 14,557 California facilities that partnered with us. “
Walgreens did not respond to our request for comment.
The California Department of Public Health said it’s building a vaccine dashboard that will provide county level data on vaccines shipped and administered but did not say when it will be available.