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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A partnership between the federal government and two pharmacy chains has been responsible for distributing COVID-19 vaccines to long-term care facilities in the Mid-South.

The process has faced some issues, so WREG checked in on the progress.

At the Village at Germantown, CEO Mike Craft said it’s tough to protect residents in four different types of facilities — independent living, assisted living, memory care and long-term care — leaving them and employees vulnerable.

“It can prove to be especially fatal for this group. It’s also important because they all live here together,” Craft said.

They’ve had two COVID clusters identified by the Shelby County Health Department, resulting in five deaths and other cases along the way. That’s why they want vaccines, and they’re getting them as part of the Federal Pharmacy Partnership.

Tennessee has delegated nearly 96,200 first doses to the partnership, depending on CVS and Walgreens to give the shots in 821 long-term care facilities, like the Village at Germantown.

So far they’ve administered less than half of those shots, 38,964.

Communication and the logistics of trying to get information to patients’ families, has been an issue, said Dr. Manoj Jain, an infectious disease specialist who serves on the Shelby County COVID-19 Task Force.

Craft said once his facility found out they’d be working with Walgreens, it took about a month before they heard from the company.

“We were starting to get a little antsy,” he said, but the rest went smoothly.

“They told us what they need from us: crowd control, tables, chairs, people to show residents around,” he said. “They were working with two people in our organizations, they were their contacts. They’ve coordinated everything from there in terms of you have to give them exact names of people.”

Craft said he’s proud that nearly all their residents have now been vaccinated, despite the slow rollout.

“Whoever came down with COVID during that period may have avoided it had they been vaccinated earlier,” he said.

In fact, both CVS and Walgreens data shows they’re finally getting close to finishing first doses across Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.

But that still doesn’t explain why the vast number of vaccine doses available to the companies, more than 55,000 in Tennessee, haven’t been used.

Dr. Jain says that’s because of staff.

“As many as 30-40% of health providers may not be accepting the vaccine at the front end,” Jain said.

And in facilities like The Village at Germantown, Craft says the rejection rate is even higher.

“I’m hearing locally within our type of facility, maybe 50% participation,” he said.

Tennessee officials say these extra doses won’t get wasted. They’ll go back into the pot for the general population. 

Craft says he wishes he had more staff accepting the vaccine, but he’s hoping what they have done is enough.

“We’re looking forward to benefits that will come from receiving the vaccine,” he said.

States have also designated a large number of vaccines to the pharmacies for second doses. In Tennessee, that’s nearly 100,000 more. We’ll continue to monitor their progress and report on any more issues that come up.