Image of David Gifford, M.D.

Industry advocates are welcoming the decision by federal health officials to include Americans aged 65 and older, residents of long-term care settings and healthcare workers in their new recommendation to offer COVID-19 booster shots to at-risk adults.

The Food and Drug Administration last week approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for use as a third dose or booster shot for American adults who are more likely to experience severe disease due to gradually waning vaccine efficacy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed up with recommendations for priority recipients, including long-term care residents and people in occupations that put them at higher risk of infection and severe illness.

Although COVID-19 vaccine remain effective, a booster dose option will serve as “another layer of protection that we need to fight this virus that uniquely targets our vulnerable long term care population,” said David Gifford, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL).

COVID-19 cases will persist in LTC settings when community transmission is high, making efforts to increase vaccination rates critical, he said in a Friday statement. This is particularly true among workers, who continue to have much lower vaccination rates when compared to residents and can bring infections into facilities, he added.

The news comes as the highly transmissible delta variant continues to contribute to new LTCF cases, and reinforces how access to vaccines has been the most important development of the pandemic for older adults and the people who care for them, said a spokeswoman for LeadingAge.

“The availability of boosters for older adults — who’ve been disproportionately impacted by COVID — and for care workers is welcome additional protection for all,” she said. 

Home care and hospice advocates are applauding the news as well.

The “NAHC fully supports the CDC’s decision on booster shots for seniors and healthcare workers,” a spokesman for the National Association for Home Care & Hospice said Friday afternoon. “We expect providers of care in the home to have an important role in getting boosters to seniors and the disabled who are homebound. NAHC stands ready to assist in any way we can to help administer safe and effective vaccines to America’s most vulnerable population.”

Moderna and J&J vaccine evidence under review

Early vaccine recipients — many of whom were nursing home recipients — will especially benefit from the additional protection, said CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., also on Friday. COVID-19 vaccine efficacy has been shown to wane gradually over time. With the dominance of the delta variant nationwide and cases on the upswing, a third Pfizer jab will help, she said.

“[A] booster shot will help strengthen protection against severe disease in those populations who are at high-risk for exposure to COVID-19 or the complications from severe disease,” Walensky said. The CDC also is fast-tracking its review of the evidence in order to make additional recommendations for people who got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines, Walensky added. 

Access to booster shot vaccines should not be difficult since most nursing homes and some assisted living communities already have access to the drugs through long-term care pharmacies, Gifford said. 

“[W]e anticipate the booster shot process will be fairly straightforward and the vaccines will be available quickly for these providers.”