Americans living or working in long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and assisted care living centers, will receive COVID-19 vaccinations for free if and when they become available, the Trump administration said Friday.
The administration announced a partnership with the nation's two largest drug store chains, CVS and Walgreens, "to provide and administer" the vaccines with "no out-of-pocket costs" for the recipients. The drug store chains released separate statements confirming their participation in the program.
Dozens of COVID-19 vaccines candidates are in the works, including several that could be within months of receiving emergency authorization from the likes of drug companies Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Calling the deal the "Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program," the Trump administration said residents of long-term care facilities "may be part of the prioritized groups for initial COVID-19 vaccination efforts until there are enough doses available for every American who wishes to be vaccinated."
“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,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.
Vaccine experts have said that older Americans are likely to be among the first to receive COVID-19 vaccinations since they are the most vulnerable to the disease.
While coordinating COVID-19 immunizations at the state level is a complex and ongoing process, “this public-private partnership to vaccinate nursing home and long-term facility residents and workers is a giant step forward,” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers.
People in nursing homes and other long-term care settings account for less than 1% of the U.S. population, but they represent about 40% of the deaths from COVID-19, with more than 83,600 fatalities logged by the COVID Tracking Project.
The government said it would tap "multiple authorities to ensure appropriate reimbursement for these services" and said, "no American being vaccinated for COVID-19 will have to pay out-of-pocket."
CVS and Walgreens are expected to coordinate three clinics apiece directly with each long-term care facility over the course of about two months to ensure the administration of two doses of the vaccine, if necessary.
The administration said that long-term care facilities are not required to participate in the program. HHS is fielding an online survey for nursing homes to assess their interest in the vaccine distribution program, but the allocation of vaccines will be done through state and territorial governments.
President Donald Trump announced the partnership Friday at an event billed as "Protecting America's Seniors" in Fort Myers, Florida. The president is trying to shore up support among senior citizens, a key voting bloc that helped him win four years ago but which recent polling suggests has eroded in recent months.
The president, 74, vowed a vaccine would be available before the end of the year despite his own federal health experts saying that timeline is highly unlikely, and vowed that senior citizens would be "first in line."
Trump, who has been widely criticized for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has zeroed in on older voters in the final stretch of the campaign. In recent days, the Trump campaign has released a television ad pitching the president as a better advocate for the elderly while last week Trump shared a video on Twitter in which he directly spoke to seniors and vowed to make the drugs he was treated with for COVID-19 more widely available.
The president on Friday opened up about his own experience with the coronavirus and boasted about the experimental antibody treatment by New York biotech company Regeneron.
"It's really amazing what happened because I wasn't feeling great and the next day I wake up and I'm saying, like, 'Who can I fight today?'" he told the crowd.
Biden, for his part, is making a direct appeal to older voters.
The 77-year-old visited a community center for seniors in Florida earlier this week, where he said: "The only senior that Donald Trump cares about – the only senior – is the senior Donald Trump."