CDC Shares Latest on Pharmacy Partnership, Reporting System

Regulation | January 11, 2021 | by Linda Couch

Policy staff joined a few other association representatives on a regular check in call with CDC today. Dr. Ruth Link-Gelles, Doctoral Epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gave an update on the CDC’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program. And, the CDC’s Dr. John Su provided information on what the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is, when to use it, and how to use it.

Policy staff joined a few other association representatives on a regular check in call with CDC today. Dr. Ruth Link-Gelles, Doctoral Epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gave an update on the CDC’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program. And, the CDC’s Dr. John Su provided information on what the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is, when to use it, and how to use it.

As of early the week of January 11, Dr. Link-Gelles said the CDC’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program has vaccinated just shy one million staff and residents. This number will increase as many second clinics at skilled nursing communities happen the week of January 11. At those second clinics, many who declined a vaccination at a first clinic are expected to receive it at the second clinic, bringing the total vaccinated in long term care communities beyond one million people by week’s end.

While the vast majority of nursing homes (more than 12,500) have had their first clinic or have one secheduled, pharmacy partners and often state and local health departments are working to contact more than 800 nursing homes who do not yet have a first clinic scheduled, Dr. Link-Gelles said.

The Pharmacy Patnership is phased in Part A (nursing homes) and Part B (assisted living, HUD Section 202, and other settings). According to Dr. Link-Gelles, by the end of the week of Januay 11, the CDC expects initial clinics to take place at more than 8000 assisted living communities.  

Asked about whether someone should receive their first does at a community’s third vaccinei clinic, Dr. Link-Gelles reponded that staff should go ahead and get an initial shot at a third clinic and then follow up with a CVS or Walgreens pharmacy to reveive their second dose. For residents, CDC staff said the answer is more complicated and depends on the length of stay. For short-stay residents, the answer would be the same as for staff: the second dose could be received at a local pharmacy. For longer-stay residents, the CDC is working to ensure providers can receive a regular and consistent supply of vaccines in the future. Forthcoming vaccines do not have the same deep-cold storage requirements the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and would be more amenable to on-site storage, making them available to longer-stay residents who recived their first dose at a community’s third clinic. The CDC expects to have materials available on this topic soon.

As explained by Dr. Su, VAERS a passive vaccine safety surveillance system. CDC depends on the general public, manufacturers, providers, and anyone to report on important things that happen after people are vaccinated. VAERS is not new; it was not created specifically for COVID, though it will be very valuable with the roll out of COVID vaccines. CDC is currently working on videos and other specific tools for long-term care providers.

VAERS is an early reporting system that is valuable in real time. If undesired or bad outcomes are happening, beyond what is generally expected to occur after a COVID-19 vaccination, steps can be taken immediately to better understand them and do something to correct problems. It’s also possible to track changes in patterns of reporting. 

Dr. Su shared a table with strengths and limitations of VAERS, noting that the biggest limitation is that every adverse event reported in the system happened by definition to someone who was immunized; there is no comparison group consisting of people who were not immunized. So it’s never clear that the vaccine caused the adverse event.

LeadingAge members should know about VAERS, what must be reported vs. what is voluntary, and how to report. Healthcare providers are required to report within specified timeframes to VAERS any events on this table that occur. These include serious events like anaphylaxis, acute complications that require hospitalization, cases of COVID, vaccine errors and others. It is not always a given that the vaccine caused the event. Affordable housing providers are not requried to report to VAERS, but could help the CDC stay aware of side effects by encouraging residents to enroll cell phones in V-safe, a CDC texting and webform tool that allows people to report their own side effects after a COVID-19 vaccination.

Reporting can be done online directly or on a fillable PDF form that can be uploaded. The forms are available here. Aging services providers have not been a focus of VAERS rollout yet, so it is possible that events might have occurred that could have been reported. CDC is developing materials and videos specifically tailored to aging services providers; they should be available soon. Currently, printable posters and brochures as well as web buttons are available from the CDC website