December 1, 2023

Many Americans logged on to websites before sunrise, waited in long lines, and drove for hours for Covid vaccines.

In nursing homes, however, the experience was the opposite: about 60% of employees in long-term care facilities turned down the shots, said Rick Gates, senior vice president of pharmacy and healthcare at Walgreens. He said that around 20% of residents rejected the vaccines.

“We saw that vaccine delay – especially among those who work in these facilities – was higher than expected,” he said at CNBC’s “Healthy Returns” virtual event on Tuesday.

Walgreens and CVS Health have been selected by the federal government to deliver vaccines to residents and employees at thousands of long-term care facilities across the country. Nursing home and assisted living were high on the list of priorities alongside healthcare workers as they had a disproportionately high number of Covid-19 outbreaks and deaths.

The rejected vaccines point to another challenge the country will face, especially as pharmacies and community clinics receive more doses: convincing the majority of Americans to get the life-saving vaccine, which is designed to protect the general public and encourage gradual return the economy contributes to some degree of normalcy.

Gates said excess vaccines from long-term care facilities were eventually returned to the states or given to other high priority individuals.

Starting Friday, Walgreens will offer vaccines in a number of stores in 15 states as well as in the Chicago and New York City jurisdictions as part of a federal pharmacy program. It will deliver the vaccines to priority groups in these stores, such as elderly Americans or people with medical conditions.

Gates said the pharmacy chain looks forward to playing a bigger role in the vaccination effort, but said “the availability of vaccines is the biggest hurdle”. He anticipates the cans will be available to the general public in all Walgreens stores in late March or early April.

Judy Druin will be vaccinated by pharmacist Joe Borge on February 1, 2021 in Danvers, MA. On the first day of Phase 2 of the COVID-19 rollout, seniors aged 75 and over will be vaccinated at the Walgreens pharmacy on 107 High Street in Danvers.

Pat greenhouse | Boston Globe | Getty Images