The vaccine will be free of charge and available for residents in all long-term care settings, including skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, residential care homes and adult family homes, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a press release.
There are about 15,000 long-term care facilities as well as an additional 35,000 assisted living facilities in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's deputy director for infectious diseases, Jay Butler, told reporters on a call Friday. The eligibility requirements for facilities are "very broad," he added.
Starting Monday, long-term care facilities will be able to select which pharmacy they prefer to have on-site. The facilities can opt-in to the program through the CDC's National Healthcare Safety Network, Butler said. If a facility chooses to not opt-in, there will be the possibility of being able to administer vaccines through other sources, including from local pharmacies, he added.
CVS and Walgreens will schedule and coordinate on-site clinic dates directly with each facility, HHS said. 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, the agency said. Long-term care facilities are not mandated to participate, HHS added.
"Protecting the vulnerable has been the number one priority of the Trump Administration's response to COVID-19, and that commitment will continue through distributing a safe and effective vaccine earliest to those who need it most," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said the deal will ensure that nursing homes, which have been hit hard by the virus, "are at the front of the line for the COVID vaccine and will bring their grueling trial to a close as swiftly as possible."
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 approved for public use.
Once a vaccine is approved, it will likely be released in stages, with the elderly and health-care workers getting it first.
There are four potential vaccines backed by the U.S. currently in late-stage testing. Most of the potential vaccines require two doses, although Johnson & Johnson's requires just one shot, and some of them need to be transported and stored at varying and specific temperatures.
Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at HHS, told reporters on an Oct. 9 call that the federal government is in the process of "actively engaging tens of thousands of provider outlets for these vaccines." Mango added that the U.S. currently has assembled 40 million-plus vaccination kits with the bottles, needles and other items needed for the shots.
"All of those are in warehouses ready to go, so that's a big logistical task or undertaking," he said.
On a call with reporters Friday, Mango said the federal government was in touch with other pharmacies besides CVS and Walgreens but said that they could not "deliver on these capabilities and our executional requirements."
"These two players have been doing this for a while," he said. "They have demonstrated the ability from an IT perspective, from a training and personnel perspective, from an asset perspective."
HHS said Friday that CVS and Walgreens will receive and manage vaccines and also ensure they are stored at the proper temperatures. The companies will also be responsible for on-site administration of the vaccine.
"Ensuring access to COVID-19 vaccines, particularly among our most vulnerable populations, will be critical to saving lives and helping our nation recover from the pandemic," Walgreens president John Standley said in a statement.
Troy Brennan, chief medical officer at CVS Health, said in a statement, "CVS Health has been on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19, working across the health care spectrum in all the communities we serve and that will continue to be the case when we have a vaccine to dispense."
HHS also said that it is "using multiple authorities" to ensure appropriate reimbursement for the vaccinations and that no American will have to pay out of pocket.
Mango said Friday the government has also put aside a fund to cover vaccinations for the uninsured similar to the one used to cover coronavirus testing.