As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviews the safety and efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine, many Americans are wondering what happens next: When will vaccines be available? And how will they be distributed? On TODAY, the CEO of CVS Health outlined the ways the general public will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine at the company's pharmacies across the country, once it's approved and ready for distribution.
People will have to make an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, unlike being able to just walk into a CVS and get a seasonal flu shot. President and CEO Larry Merlo described the process, as well as how the company will first get the vaccine to residents of long-term care facilities.
"What we're doing is, we're going to use our digital interface to make it simple, easy and seamless for our customers," Merlo told Sheinelle Jones. "They'll go to the CVS pharmacy app and they'll actually be able to schedule a COVID vaccine appointment."
Five of the six major vaccines, including ones by Pfizer and Moderna that are currently being reviewed for emergency use authorization, require a booster shot within 21 to 28 days, meaning people will have to make two trips. CVS Health plans on using prompts through its app and other means to ensure that people show up for both shots.
"Think of it like booking a round-trip travel ticket," Merlo said. "We'll prompt them as they schedule their first vaccine to also schedule that booster, and much like we do today with refill reminders, so that you stay current to your medications, we'll be providing an awful lot of friendly nudges so that you don't miss that first appointment and equally important that second appointment."
Merlo added that for those without access to the CVS Health app, there will be a 1-800 number where they can make appointments and get more information.
Having conducted more than 8 million COVID-19 tests during the pandemic and administered 20 million flu shots this year, CVS Health feels it has the infrastructure in place to handle giving millions of coronavirus vaccinations to the public.
"We have our logistics plan, we have our staffing plan, so we are ready to go," Merlo said.
CVS Health and one of its main competitors, Walgreens, were also designated in October as part of the federal government program Operation Warp Speed to distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines to residents of long-term care facilities for free.
CVS Health has experience going into long-term facilities to administer seasonal flu shots every year, which Merlo said will help in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, hopefully within the next few weeks.
"This is a process that is not new for us," he said.
There have been 31,000 long-term care facilities that have selected CVS Health to provide them with the vaccine, according to Merlo. The company is working with the Centers for Disease Control and state governments on the distribution plan after the CDC recommended earlier this week that health care workers and nursing homes would be given priority for vaccination.
Once state governments decide how they will allocate the vaccine to the high-priority groups, Merlo said CVS Health expects to be distributing and administering the vaccine "certainly before the Christmas time frame" depending on when the FDA approves the vaccines.
CVS Health employees will visit each of the long-term care facilities on three different occasions to administer the vaccine, according to Merlo.
"We believe we'll be able to immunize the vast majority of the long-term care residents within a 6-8 week period," he said.