AURORA, Colo., (CBS4) –
A new effort is underway in Colorado and across the country to get more people in long-term care facilities vaccinated against the coronavirus.(credit: CBS)

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The mobilized effort is part of the Centers for Disease Control’s partnership with CVS, Walgreens, and Managed Health Care Associates, Inc., aimed at offering on-site COVID-19 vaccinations for residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

According to the state, there are 225 skilled nursing facilities, as well as 917 assisted living facilities and other eligible facilities enrolled in the program. On Monday, the program began in some of those facilities. Others are scheduled to start vaccinations in the coming days and weeks.

University Heights Rehab and Care in Aurora was one of the first skilled nursing facilities to begin vaccinating residents and staff. Throughout the day, CVS pharmacists methodically administered vaccine after vaccine. Dr. Gregory Gahm, Chief Medical Officer for Vivage Senior Living, which owns University Heights, as well as 35 other facilities in the state, said the program will roll out over the next three weeks.

On Monday, the goal was to administer a shot every four minutes. Close to 65 residents and 125 staff are currently living or working at the facility.” Realistically, 70-80% of the patients and 65-75% of the staff is possible,” Gahm said when asked about the long-term goal for his facility.

Among the first to get a vaccination was Randa Elliott, who has stayed at University Heights since Oct. 1. She said the process was so easy she asked the pharmacist if the needle had gone in yet. “I’m actually excited to get the next shot and get the full dose,” Elliott said.

University Heights is one of 382 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities in Colorado working with CVS to administer the vaccine. Walgreens is also part of the program, and had health professionals at Colorado facilities as well, including Casey’s Pond, a senior living and skilled nursing facility in Steamboat Springs.

“By the end of the day, we’ll be done with the first round,” said Brad Boatright, Executive Director. According to Boatright, the hope is to have 100% of residents and staff vaccinated over the coming weeks. With the help of Walgreens health professionals, Routt County Health Department employees, and the owner of Lyons Drug and Pharmacy, more than 70 residents and staff got shots in just three hours Monday. “I don’t think there is a way we would have done this on our own this quickly, this efficiently, and without any bumps in the road,” Boatright said.

At both facilities, residents and staff will need a second shot in 28 days. Each patient has a record of which vaccine they received, and health professionals will make sure that one is administered the second time. “It’s been the needed boost of optimism that something’s changing, that we have a different future than what we’ve seen for the past nine months,” Boatright said.

Facilities didn’t have to take part in the program. One benefit of doing so is having the pharmacies handle the transport and storage of the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.

“Most people don’t have freezers capable of doing that, so having them bring the vaccine out, provide the vaccine, keep the paperwork, enter the data, track the data, becomes really important because the staff that are working here are working as they can just to get the normal things done,” Gahm said.