CALIFORNIA, USA — Last week, CVS Health started a vaccination project in California to help protect those at the highest risk of COVID-19.
The company is working with 40,000 long-term care facilities nationwide over the next 12 weeks to get them vaccinated against the coronavirus. In California, that translates to 15,000 long-term care clinics with nearly 700,000 residents and staff vaccinated.
“We’re going to be able to bring hugs back is the way that I think about it,” said Joe Fiesel, Region Director for CVS Health and pharmacist.
Fiesel said CVS is working with the government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the project. In California, they’re focusing on part of the population in Phase 1A, specifically the staff and residents of long-term care facilities.
“The thing is we’ve been planning this since October, so we learned so much from our testing,” Fiesel said. “We scaled up very quickly. We’ve tested for COVID more than 10 million patients, so all of those learnings kind of came together and kind of coalesced into a very clean strategy to make sure that we can vaccinate these long-term care clinics very quickly and easily.”
Fiesel said his teams pick up the vaccine each morning from depots across the Bay Area and bring it over to the long-term care clinic where they vaccinate the entire facility over the course of 12 weeks.
Those three weeks see the administration of the first dose and second dose of vaccine. It also gives them an opportunity to vaccinate anyone that might have missed their shot the first time.
“Just like any other vaccine, we’re going to administer it either into the left or right arm just like a flu shot,” Fiesel said.
The run from storage to the facility will give the vaccine some time to reach a friendly temperature than what it was stored at, and Fiesel said CVS's protocols and timing for delivering it will keep any doses from being wasted.
Getting a loved one vaccinated as part of the project will largely be a matter of consent between the long-term care facility and the patient or whoever is helping with the patient's healthcare. This is done before CVS arrives to start the vaccinations.
“Once we get there, it’s kind of a ready process where we’re then vaccinating one individual one after the next,” Fiesel said.
After the 12-week project, CVS has eyes looking toward vaccinations for the general public.
“Right now, we’re anticipating that we are going to be able to vaccinate the general public in March, and so we’re going to be ready for that,” Fiesel said.
It's a projection close to what Dr. Olivia Kasirye, Sacramento County Public Health officer, is hoping to reach for Sacramento County. She said the county is hoping to get to a general public rollout by spring.
However, vaccination won’t be as straightforward as a walk-in pharmacy visit. Fiesel said this will be an appointment-based approach with scheduling options through their website, their app, or a 1-800 number.
“We are anticipating that we’re going to be able to do 20 to 25 million vaccinations each month once we hit the general public,” he said.
Speaking for CVS, he said anyone looking for a price tag on the COVID-19 vaccination won't be finding one.
“It’s going to be no cost to anyone that wants the vaccination," Fiesel said. "I think there’s a sigh of relief from everybody when they hear that.”
He said that the government is covering the cost of the vaccine and that the cost of administering the vaccine goes to the insurance companies.
“If you don’t have insurance, there are state-funded and government-funded programs that will cover that cost for you,” he said. “So no cost for this vaccine.”
While there’s still doubt among the population for the vaccine and the speed at which it came, Fiesel said he believes everybody needs to get vaccinated against the virus.
“If we want to get humanity back to its feet quickly, everyone needs this vaccine as quickly as we can get it them,” he said.
Walgreens is also part of the long-term care facility effort, working with about 35,000 nationwide. Meanwhile, in a statement to ABC10, Safeway said they're in the process of hiring extra pharmacy staff and working with states to help the general public know more about when the vaccine might become available to them. A spokesperson for the company said they're working in areas like Placer County and Sacramento County on their Phase 1A plan to administer the vaccine.