A customer wearing a face mask exits a Walgreens pharmacy in South Beach on April 14, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida.

Cliff Hawkins | Getty Images

The Trump administration said Wednesday that it is seeing “tremendous uptake” of a program that will allow CVS Health and Walgreens to administer coronavirus vaccines to seniors in long-term care facilities.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that 99% of skilled nursing facilities across the country have signed up for the program, which will give Covid-19 vaccines to seniors free of charge and will be available to residents in all long-term care settings, including skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, residential care homes and adult family homes. He said 100% of facilities in 20 states are signed up.

“Using pharmacy networks allows us to expand access beyond just standalone brick-and-mortar pharmacies, because pharmacists, pharmacy interns, and pharmacy technicians also provide vaccinations in places like grocery stores,” Azar said during a press conference on the Trump administration’s vaccine program Operation Warp Speed. “The ultimate goal here is to make getting a Covid-19 vaccine as convenient as getting a flu shot.”

Azar’s comments come hours after Pfizer announced it would seek emergency use authorization with the Food and Drug Administration in the coming days after a final data analysis found its vaccine was highly effective, safe and appeared to prevent severe disease. If authorized, the vaccine will likely be released in phases, with health-care workers and vulnerable Americans, such as the elderly and those with preexisting conditions, getting it first.

The Trump administration first announced the program with CVS and Walgreens in October. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma said at the time that the program would ensure that nursing homes, which have been hit hard by the virus, “are at the front of the line for the Covid vaccine and will bring their grueling trial to a close as swiftly as possible.”

There are about 15,000 long-term care facilities as well as an additional 35,000 assisted living facilities in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated. Between 9,000 and 10,000 facilities had already opted into the program by late October, according to U.S. health officials.

The program is optional, and the facilities can opt-in to the program through the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network. If a facility chooses to not opt-in, there will be the possibility of being able to administer vaccines through other sources, including from local pharmacies, officials have said.

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