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Concerns Raised Over Administering COVID-19 Vaccine

CVS and Walgreens have partnered with the federal government to administer COVID-19 vaccines. The first doses, outside of hospitals, will go to residents and staff at long-term care facilities. AP photo

Concerns have been raised by those being tasked with administering the COVID-19 vaccine to residents and staff at area long-term care facilities, which could begin as soon as early next week.

Those concerns largely center on the vaccination phases outlined by the Chautauqua County Department of Health and which mirror state and federal priority guidelines. The federal governmental has contracted with CVS and Walgreens across the country to administer the vaccine to combat the coronavirus. Those scheduled to get the first doses include health care workers, emergency medical services personnel and nursing home patients and employees.

Hospitals have received direct shipments of the vaccine for its employees.

Pharmacists at CVS and Walgreen are expected, at least locally, to begin administering the vaccine at long-term care facilities beginning next week. However, pharmacists are not slated to get the highly anticipated vaccination themselves until Phase 2, which also includes first responders, child care providers, public health workers and those deemed high-risk due to comorbidities and health conditions.

“My concern is that we will be face-to-face and in contact with people proven to be very susceptible to getting COVID and have been in lockdown going into these facilities,” said Michelle Gruber, a pharmacist and the pharmacy manager at CVS in Jamestown. “We don’t qualify for the vaccine until Phase 1 is done. That is counterintuitive to me.”

Michelle Gruber

Gruber confirmed she will be among those in Chautauqua County who will administer the vaccine inside long-term care facilities. It’s not known how many pharmacists in the region will be assisting or how many residents and staff are scheduled to get the vaccine locally, though Gruber estimates it could be thousands.

In the meantime, she has reached out to county and state public health officials, as well as local elected leaders, in an effort to ensure those giving out the vaccine can receive a dose as well.

“I’d like them to consider changing pharmacists being in Phase 2 to Phase 1,” said Gruber, who has two young children. “I just hope that the department sees this as an error and that we really do need to be protected to protect ourselves and our families.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during a news conference Wednesday, said Phase 2 is expected to begin in New York state around the end of January.

The partnership between the government and CVS and Walgreens to handle administering the COVID-19 vaccine as part of Operation Warp Speed was announced in the fall.

“Protecting the vulnerable has been the number one priority of the Trump Administration’s response to COVID-19, and that commitment will continue through distributing a safe and effective vaccine earliest to those who need it most,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in October. “Our unprecedented public-private partnership with CVS and Walgreens will provide convenient and free vaccination to residents of nursing homes across America, another historic achievement in our efforts to get a safe and effective vaccine to Americans as fast as possible.”

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