A federal advisory panel’s overwhelming vote to give long-term care residents and healthcare workers first access to COVID-19 vaccines is an “important step in the right direction,” industry stakeholders say.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 to approve the groups’ prioritization during an emergency meeting on Tuesday.
There are about 3 million residents at long-term care facilities, which by panel’s definition includes skilled nursing, assisted living and other resident care facilities. There are also about 21 million healthcare personnel, which includes workers at long-term care facilities and pharmacies and in home health care settings.
“The committee’s recommendation recognizes the simple truth that older Americans who’ve suffered most need to be first in line for life-saving vaccines, along with the people who care for them and other critical healthcare workers,” LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said in a statement Tuesday.
“The lack of prioritization for older Americans during the pandemic has cost too many lives, and we can’t let it happen again. Today’s recommendation is an important step in the right direction — if it’s acted on. Now states must follow suit by ensuring that long-term care residents and staff are among the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” she added.
Providers believe the vaccine could serve as a jumpstart toward normalcy for residents and facilities, noted Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living.
“Given the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread of this virus combined with the explosion of community spread across the U.S., we are extremely hopeful this vaccine will literally be a lifesaver for thousands of residents and expedite the reopening of our facilities to family members and loved ones,” Parkinson said.
“Now it is up to the governors and state health agencies to implement these recommendations and ensure our long term care residents and staff are prioritized in the actual rollout of the vaccine to provide this protection as soon as possible,” he added.
The federal government expects there will be about 40 million doses available to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of December. Officials also anticipate 5 million to 10 million doses per week will be distributed post-authorization.
The advisory board noted that initial doses may be limited and there could be a need for sub-prioritization within the two groups, and the CDC will provide guidance on how to rank within the categories.
For long-term care facilities, those rankings would encourage state officials to consider prioritizing skilled nursing facilities to receive vaccine doses first, then to residents at assisted living facilities, residential care communities, intermediate care facilities and state veterans homes.
For healthcare personnel, considerations called for workers with direct patient contact for top prioritization, those in long-term care facilities, and employees who haven’t had a known COVID-19 infection during the prior 90 days.