Illinois criticized for slow vaccinations at nursing homes

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As vaccinations continue at Illinois nursing homes, some health organizations are asking why more pharmacies aren’t involved to speed up the process.

A federal program involving CVS and Walgreens to inject the COVID-19 vaccines is off to a slow start in the state. Other states that have involved other pharmacies that already have a relationship with assisted living facilities have had better success.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at a news conference last week that had recently spoken with officials from CVS and Walgreens about concerns regarding the pace of vaccinations at nursing homes.

“We have the ability to step in and help out in the process and also be responsive to the pharmacy companies, and so I think they are on a good trajectory,” Pritzker said.

Since the campaign’s launch on Dec. 28, the pharmacies have administered 131,401 of the nearly 500,000 doses now allocated by the state for residents and staff members of long-term facilities, according to IDPH statistics posted Jan. 29.

Some states have taken steps to try to speed up vaccinations for long-term care residents. West Virginia decided to forego the federal program and instead used local pharmacies to complete the first round of vaccinations at its long-term care facilities.

Florida also announced it would expedite vaccinations by transferring the responsibility from Walgreens and CVS and instead teaming with a local health provider for the project.

Patricia Merryweather-Arges, executive director of the nonprofit public health policy group Project Patient Care, said the process could be sped up by distributing the vaccine to local pharmacies.

“Especially when you get into rural areas or areas where they are not heavily populated by Walgreens and CVS,” Merryweather said.

She adds that it wasn’t until last December that the two pharmacies started to recruit 30,000 pharmacists and administrative staff to handle the COVID-19 vaccine administration.

Once the pharmacies were able to go into some of the state’s congregate-care facilities, it appears to be paying off. In the latest figures from the Illinois Department of Public Health, only 3.1% of coronavirus cases of the state’s total were nursing home residents, compared to 5% the previous week and over 9% in mid-December.

“Time is of the essence,” Merryweather said. “I always say every moment counts, and every resident counts.”

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