CMS Urges Timely Patient Access to COVID-19 Vaccines, Therapeutics

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued new guidance that highlights the need for health care providers and suppliers to ensure patients have access to the latest available COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. In particular, CMS is reminding nursing homes that they are required to offer the COVID-19 vaccines, including any updated COVID vaccines, to residents.

In a new Quality, Safety & Oversight (QSO) memo, CMS reinforces the importance of COVID-19 treatments for preventing serious illness from COVID-19 and saving the lives of high-risk individuals who would otherwise be at risk of severe complications.

CMS is also reemphasizing the need for providers and suppliers to stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations, including any updated COVID vaccines, as they provide the best defense against severe illness, hospitalization, and death from the virus.

CMS is encouraging nursing homes, in particular, to increase their vaccination efforts and review and reinforce their infection control protocols. CMS requires nursing homes to educate residents and staff on the risks and benefits of the COVID vaccines and offer to administer the vaccine. In addition, in consultation with their physician and family, nursing homes should ensure residents who test positive for COVID-19 receive appropriate treatments.

Since COVID vaccines first became available in late 2020, CMS has worked hard to ensure their availability to nursing home residents, and almost 87% of nursing home residents have completed the initial series of COVID-19 shots. However, CMS is concerned that recent data shows that only about 44% of nursing home residents are up-to-date on their current recommended vaccines. The agency is particularly disappointed that some facilities are reporting that zero residents have received the updated bivalent vaccine, and we will be looking closely at these facilities.

Working in conjunction with our Quality Improvement Organizations (QIOs), CMS has offered individualized assistance in providing vaccinations to residents in over 85% of the country’s skilled-nursing facilities. As part of the agency’s work to promote vaccination uptake, CMS will be meeting with QIOs later this month to bolster their outreach efforts and to set up more vaccination clinics at nursing homes across the country.

Moving forward, CMS will also continue to look closely at outbreak status and where poor outcomes are occurring at the nation’s nursing homes.

The QSO memo ̶ The Importance of Timely Use of COVID-19 Therapeutics ̶ can be viewed here.