T.J. Griffin

The Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program that was forged through a joint agreement with our Defense and Health and Human Services departments was a successful national effort that presided over our country’s vaccine rollout.

Today, well more than half of our country – and a significant number of our long-term care workforce and residents – has now been vaccinated. Yet serious challenges remain, and none of us are ready to take a victory lap. 

To get our communities, our states, our country to that place called “herd immunity,” we still have much work to do to help our still unvaccinated friends, neighbors and co-workers understand the duty that lies ahead. 

Behind the numbers

First, the incredibly positive news: Progress inside our country’s nursing homes has been remarkable, including the near 80% complete vaccination rates among over-65 residents.

Reporting by the National Healthcare Safety Network reveals that total nursing home resident deaths had precipitously dropped from a high of 45% of the U.S. population at the end of December 2020 to just 5% by late May 2021. These are at the level of nursing home deaths considered normal well before the pandemic was even declared.

These are phenomenal achievements, especially considering the daily distractions of trauma, stress and staff turnover. And all in all, these trends show the fact that the COVID vaccines work.

Words of caution

Still, take heed: While the vast majority of nursing home residents have now been fully vaccinated, roughly half of those who care for them have not, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Strategies to maximize vaccine acceptance begin with understanding individual reasons for vaccine hesitancy and working to provide reassurance and evidence for patients to make confident and informed decisions.

In a late February issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a recent national survey, found four major reasons to be:

  • Concerns about vaccine side effects and safety (29.8%);
  • Waiting to see if the vaccine is safe (14.5%);
  • Lacking trust in the government (12.5%); and
  • Concerns that COVID-19 vaccines were developed too quickly (10.4%).

Other hesitancy factors include fears the vaccines will alter DNA or lead to female infertility and rare incidences of death or severe allergic reactions linked to certain vaccines.

These all have been explained and debunked at length, and the CDC offers a wealth of resources managers and leaders can provide to wary workforces.

Staying the course, preserving momentum

The long-term care industry has the extraordinary task of finishing what it started.

Remember – your pharmacy and consultant pharmacist are there to provide you with the best advice and insights – in-person or online. They can be called upon to provide timely and reliable materials that can be used for staff, resident and family education. Be prepared to address every known vaccination hesitancy argument there is.

Review the new Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Interim Final Regulations regarding new mandates on Vaccine Offering, Education and Reporting, which were released May 11. Also, familiarize yourself with the new CMS Interim Final Rule – COVID-19 Vaccine Immunization Requirements for Residents and Staff that includes updated survey tools and new F-Tags regarding survey compliance. 

Identify and enlist trusted leaders in your own organization to disseminate and act as a reliable source of information. And most important – when your unvaccinated worker or resident is ready, facilitate every known opportunity to put them in front of someone with a vial and syringe.

The final mile

The biggest threat right now isn’t the COVID vaccine – but a single facility’s inability to maximize the levels of vaccinations in its staff and residents.

COVID has taken our loved ones and brought us all to the limits of our endurance. Let’s take this final mile together and put COVID to rest. For good.

T.J. Griffin is PharMerica’s chief pharmacy officer and senior vice president of long-term care operations. He is a seasoned healthcare executive with 30 years in long-term care and retail pharmacy management. In his current role, he helps deliver on the PharMerica promise of Care, Commitment and Collaboration by maintaining the highest quality standards in the industry through innovative pharmacy operations and clinical excellence.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.