Residents and healthcare workers in long-term care settings should receive top priority for a COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available, the nation’s largest nursing home association urged in a letter to a top health official. 

“This virus disproportionately impacts older adults, particularly those over 80 with chronic diseases, which comprises the majority of the population we serve,” the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living wrote in a letter Monday to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

AHCA/NCAL added that top priority is warranted for the groups since “those we care for are the most vulnerable to the virus.” 

The letter specifically calls on the agency to extend the public health emergency beyond the July 26 expiration date and keep Section 1135 and Section 1812(f) waivers in place until certain conditions are met — such as if a vaccine becomes available.

In an emergency situation, Sections 1135 and 1812(f) of the Social Security Act allows the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to issue blanket waivers to help beneficiaries access care. Since late March, the agency announced a set of blanket waivers to help providers respond to the pandemic, including temporarily relaxing Medicare telehealth restrictions. 

Other conditions included if the supply chain is able to continuously meet the increased demand for personal protective equipment and nursing homes rebuild their workforce to pre-COVID levels. 

“Without a PHE extension and related Section 1135 waiver and Section 1812(f) waiver extensions, the challenges will be exponentially more difficult and the moments of success too few,” the organization wrote. 

“We anticipate the challenges associated with COVID-19 that our members and communities face every day will continue for many months, and potentially another entire year if we continue to experience increased cases despite extensive efforts to mitigate the spread among our membership,” it added.