The following is a transcript of an interview with CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo that aired Sunday, November 22, 2020, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: CVS Pharmacy is one of the locations where Americans will eventually be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes widely available. CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo joins us this morning from Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Good morning.
LARRY MERLO: Morning, MARGARET. Thanks for having me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I’d love to get your insight for the American people on what they can expect. We hear from the US government, from Operation Warp Speed Commander General Perna, that a vaccine can be distributed within 24 hours of approval to all 50 states. We know the elderly are likely to be among the first to receive it. And I know your company has contracts to give those shots in the arms inside long-term care facilities. What is the time frame? When you receive it from the US government, how long before there’s a shot in the arm?
MERLO: Yeah, MARGARET, it’s a great question, and we have been working closely with Operation Warp Speed and the CDC for several months now. And, you know, our first involvement in terms of administering the vaccine will be in long-term care facilities. That is not anything that is new for us. Our pharmacists, our nursing professionals, have gone to skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities for several years now, conducting seasonal flu clinics. So we have the systems. We have the processes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
MERLO: We have built the logistics directly for the COVID vaccine. And we just received information within the last few days that more than 25,000 long-term care facilities have selected CVS to be their COVID vaccine provider. So, we’re in the final step of matching our staffing plan to our logistics plan and, to your point, Operation Warp Speed has said 24 hours after approval, those vaccines will be on the road and 48 hours after we receive that vaccine, we’ll be in those facilities providing that vaccine into the arms of our elderly, our most vulnerable population.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, for someone at home who has a loved one inside a nursing home right now, when they hear the FDA approval happens, what can they expect? Within three days, their loved one will get a shot in the arm?
MERLO: Yeah, we will be starting that process. And, you know, it- it- we will go to each of the facilities that have selected CVS. We will be performing three clinics over a- over a three to six week period.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK.
MERLO: But, you know, we will be starting that process, as I mentioned, within 48 hours.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. You’re hiring thousands of people to do all of this work. Who’s actually administering the shots? Are these pharmacists? Are these interns? Who are they?
MERLO: Yeah, they- they will be pharmacists, along with pharmacy interns and licensed pharmacy technicians, who collectively- those will be the professionals that will be administering the vaccines all across the country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And will CVS employees who are giving the vaccine also be among the first to receive it themselves?
MERLO: Well, we will wait for guidance from- from the CDC in terms of, you know, the various protocols in terms of the phases and who’s eligible for those phases. And, you know, we will certainly be involved when it’s our turn.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. Have you briefed the incoming Biden administration on the plans that you know so far? And I understand you’re saying you’re still waiting on a lot of this information yourself, but what kind of contact have you had?
MERLO: Yeah, we have reached out to the- to the Biden COVID Task Force. We’ve talked about the role that we have been playing in fighting the virus, the role that we played in- in- in testing all across the country, the fact that we’ve now tested more than seven million Americans for- for COVID. The plans that we have to play an important role in administering the vaccine, and the fact that, you know, we have 10,000 pharmacies, about 70% of the U.S. population lives within a few miles of a CVS pharmacy. But, you know, equally important, we have built mobile kiosks where with testing, we have gone into historically underserved communities to, you know, bring access to COVID testing. We’ll do the same thing with the vaccine, and- and–
MARGARET BRENNAN: What does that mean, temporary facilities?
MERLO: Yeah, think of a- think of a mobile trailer, that, you know, we can put on wheels, and, you know, take it to a particular location to provide testing availability. And we’ll be doing the same thing to administer vaccines at the appropriate time when the vaccine becomes available. And, you know, we’ve also talked to the- to the Biden team about our commitment to work with them in terms of ensuring that, you know, we work together to make healthcare more accessible and more affordable.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK, because when the vice president- the president-elect, said that he doesn’t fully endorse the plan to use commercial retailers, grocery stores, pharmacies to distribute, because he thinks underserved communities will be overlooked. Do you think there is a blind spot there?
MERLO: MARGARET, for us, there is not. You know, as I mentioned, 70% of the population lives within a few miles of a CVS pharmacy. And, you know, we have worked with state officials in terms of bringing testing to underserved communities where we may not have a CVS pharmacy today.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK, how stretched are you when it comes to testing demand now? I know if I’m asymptomatic, I can’t get a test.
MERLO: Yeah, MARGARET, we have come a long way from that very first testing site in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, back in March. We now have 4,300 testing sites up, most at CVS Pharmacy drive-through locations. We have seen the demand for testing increase substantially over the last 10 days, and we’re continuing to roll out additional testing sites. We’ll have more than 5,000 within the next two or three weeks, including about a thousand point-of-care testing sites where we’ll use the antigen test that will provide real-time results in about 30 minutes. And customers can go to CVS.com, put in their zip code, and find a testing site that’s nearest to them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But if you haven’t had contact with someone who’s COVID positive and you’re not sick yourself, can I still go in and get a test?
MERLO: You can. And we have leveraged our- our digital capabilities where we’ve created a seamless experience for, you know, customers to fill out a simple questionnaire and, you know, that will determine their eligibility to,–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
MERLO: –you know, schedule an appointment for a COVID test.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Mr. Merlo, thank you very much. We’ll be back in a moment with former White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.