Bay Area residents desperate for answers about CVS' slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout at long-term care facilities

According to the CDC, long-term care facility residents and staff members account for 39% of coronavirus deaths in the U.S.
SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Frustration and confusion continue over the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for the high-risk residents of long-term care facilities in California, and throughout the U.S.

"They have no idea when they're going to be vaccinated," said Carole LaRochelle who's concerned about her 88-year-old mother Dora, who is in assisted living in Sonoma County.

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According to the CDC, long-term care facility residents and staff members account for 39% of coronavirus deaths in the U.S.

"It feels like it's a race to try and get my mother vaccinated before she gets exposed to COVID and could possibly die," said LaRochelle.

Along with health care workers, long-term care residents like Dora are in tier 1A. Tier 1B includes individuals 65 and older, like LaRochelle's 90-year-old father who lives at home in Santa Rosa, but managed to get vaccinated before Dora.

"It was just a stroke of luck. I got into the Kaiser website on Friday evening and got him an appointment," explained LaRochelle.

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For Bay Area seniors, the wait for a COVID-19 vaccine is likely to take months.

So who's in charge of making sure residents of long-term care facilities get vaccinated?

In October, the Trump administration and CDC partnered with pharmacies, like Walgreens and CVS, to offer on-site vaccinations at facilities.

"It would be nice to get some answers from CVS. Why they haven't gotten it done?" asked LaRochelle.
In a statement, CVS said they started vaccinating as soon as they were authorized to do so by the states. In California, that was Dec. 28 for skilled-nursing facilities and Jan. 11 for assisted living facilities.

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But Dr. Louise Aronson, a leading geriatric physician with UCSF and member of California's vaccine drafting guidelines workgroup, says California set those dates in part because CVS was slow to organize.

"These were not pharmacies with a whole lot of experience with long-term care," said Aronson. "CVS and Walgreens knew so little about these facilities that they didn't know how consent would proceed. And so what's happened is they had these very complex forms which have requests about personal health information that staff may not want to provide to their employer, and that have itty bitty tiny prints that most older people can't read."

"There has also been just chaos in terms of contact to schedule facilities," said Aronson. "It means the people at highest risk aren't getting vaccinated first. And it basically invalidates the tier system, or you have to wait for the tier system, which means everybody else who could be getting vaccinated isn't because you're waiting on Walgreens and CVS."

Aronson says if CVS and Walgreens can't immediately schedule all long-term care facility vaccines, they should turn the process over to local health departments.

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