Katie Smith Sloan
LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan

Just weeks before the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine, and with the first doses already in states’ hands, industry advocates are urging governors to prioritize long-term care residents and staff for inoculations.

In a Monday joint statement, four top aging services organizations asked decision-makers to remember the vulnerability of nursing homes, assisted living and senior living communities to coronavirus outbreaks.

Advocates want to avoid a repeat of the early pandemic, when essential resources were mainly directed to hospitals and other healthcare sectors. This left the industry pleading for help as facility cases skyrocketed, said LeadingAge, Argentum, the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living and the American Seniors Housing Association.

The public health sector cannot let that happen again, the groups argued. With cases now on the rise, priority vaccination will help prevent more transmission, illness and deaths in these facilities, they added. 

“The virus has taken a tremendous and outsized toll on long-term care residents and the staff that care for them,” Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO, LeadingAge, told McKnight’s Clinical Daily in an email. “We hope that governors will recognize this and that they will take action by protecting long-term care residents and staff first and foremost so more lives are not needlessly lost.”

Mixed signals

Federal agencies plan to make official allocation recommendations when a vaccine is approved. But the signals have been mixed, and the final decision of who gets the first vaccines is up to the states and other U.S. jurisdictions, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said last week.

“Government reports correctly identified all long-term care residents and staff for priority distribution of COVID-19 vaccines,” the advocates stated. “It is critical that policymakers at all levels maintain that position as these products come online and are delivered across the country.”

Approval coming

Federal health officials have repeatedly said that a vaccine approval and rollout is likely to come before the end of the year. The Food and Drug Administration plans to consult on Dec. 10 with its independent advisory board about whether to approve Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use. Drugmaker Moderna on Monday also asked for approval, and AstraZeneca has said that it plans to do so in the near future.

States, meanwhile, have been allocated a share of 6.4 million vaccine doses based on population data, in theory allowing distribution to begin immediately after federal approval.