The Idaho Statesman has identified several thousand doses of COVID-19 vaccine that were shipped to Idaho, set aside for a federal public-private partnership — and then went unused.
More than 10,000 of the doses are being returned to the state’s control this weekend, for use in upcoming vaccination clinics.
“We are working with (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) on reallocation of doses from the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care,” said Idaho Health and Welfare spokesperson Niki Forbing-Orr. “We know we are getting over 10,000 doses back in our state allocation by Sunday.”
The federal pharmacy program was created to help with vaccine rollout in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, relying on major pharmacy chains to hold clinics at the facilities.
Walgreens and CVS were tasked with vaccinating people who live and work in those facilities — which have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. About three-fourths of all long-term care facilities in Idaho have had at least one COVID-19 case among staff or residents, according to state records.
A large share of Idaho’s coronavirus vaccine doses (33,150) were earmarked for that program. All of them were transferred over to the pharmacy chains, Idaho Immunization Program Manager Sarah Leeds said Tuesday.
But a Walgreens spokesperson explained that Idaho nursing homes and assisted living facilities overestimated how many doses they would need.
Slow rollout of federal pharmacy program
The pharmacies had administered just 6,186 of those 33,150 doses as of Jan. 19, and hadn’t yet reached more than 80 facilities that had signed up for the program, according to a presentation to the Idaho Coronavirus Vaccine Advisory Committee. Walgreens had given 4,490 shots and CVS had given 1,696, the presentation said.
That number grew by a few thousand over the next week and a half. CVS and Walgreens had administered a total of 10,433 doses to Idaho long-term care facilities by Jan. 28, according to federal data. That left more than 20,000 still unused at that point.
Meanwhile, Idaho public health officials and local health care providers have been saying the biggest bottleneck they faced was not having enough vaccine to give to people who wanted it.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little commented briefly on the federal program’s slow pace during a press conference Thursday. He said CVS had administered at least the first shot to “everybody that they’re in charge of,” but he hadn’t heard from Walgreens on its progress.
Little said the pharmacies are “a little behind in their reporting” because of a multistep process for the vaccine records getting to the federal government and then back to Idaho.
But he said the pharmacies had committed to having all their vaccines given or scheduled by this weekend.
“I have no reason to disbelieve them, but I think the reporting is lagging. I know the reporting is lagging,” he said.
Nursing homes hit hard; still, some decline vaccine
A Walgreens corporate spokesperson told the Idaho Statesman that the company is working to get extra doses back into general circulation in places like Idaho. The spokesperson gave two explanations for the unused doses:
“The company has completed first dose clinics in all skilled nursing facilities in Idaho that selected Walgreens as their vaccine provider. We have also administered first dose vaccine clinics in 129 of 143 assisted living facilities and are on track to complete the remaining clinics by the end of the month,” Walgreens said in an emailed statement.
“As facilities registered for the CDC’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, they provided an estimate on how many vaccines they would need. In many cases, they overestimated the number of doses needed due to fluctuations in occupancy levels and the impact of vaccine hesitancy,” it said.
Some health care workers have declined to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Surveys have found they don’t trust that the vaccine is safe — despite large clinical trials and few severe reactions — or they feel they don’t have enough information about it.
Nursing homes have even resorted to offering gift cards or paid time off, hoping to entice their staff to take the vaccines, NPR has reported.
“Shortly before scheduled clinics, Walgreens works with each facility to verify the number of vaccines they need based on who has registered to receive a vaccination,” the spokesperson said. “This minimizes any excess doses from individual clinics.”
Walgreens is “working hand in hand” to figure out the best way to vaccinate Idaho’s most vulnerable — and the options have been to offer unused doses to people in its stores, or return them to the state to distribute, the spokesperson said.
“We would like to know a little more” about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in long-term care facilities, Idaho’s chief epidemiologist, Dr. Christine Hahn, said Tuesday.
“We’re going to try to do a little intel gathering and get a little more information,” she said. “We can see through the federal data system how many residents were vaccinated out of their population, but we don’t know of the workers, what percent of uptake there is.”