Getting COVID-19 vaccines to seniors early could go a long way toward not repeating mistakes early in the pandemic that resulted in the long-term care industry being the hardest hit, provider advocates warned Monday. 

“The lack of prioritization for long-term care and seniors housing at the outset of the pandemic led to devastating losses, and we cannot let that happen again. Vulnerable older adults and the frontline workers who protect them deserve the full support of the public health sector,” the American Health Care Association, LeadingAge, Argentum and the American Seniors Housing Association said in a joint statement Monday. 

Recent comments from the federal government show that a coronavirus vaccine could be about two weeks away from approval and distribution; long-term care residents and healthcare workers are slated to be among the first to get the vaccine. By making good on this promise, the groups stated that further tragedies would be prevented and residents would soon be allowed to resume social activities. A vaccine would be “one critical step toward that goal,” they added.

“In the early months, essential resources such as personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and staffing support were directed toward hospitals and other health care sectors, leaving nursing homes, assisted living and senior living communities and other long-term care providers pleading for help,” the groups wrote. 

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

Grim milestone

The collective’s comments come just days after COVID-19 deaths of long-term care residents and staff cleared the 100,000 threshold, the most recent analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation found. Data from 49 reporting states, including Washington, DC, showed a total of 100,033 residents and staff have died from the disease as of Nov. 24.

The provider entities noted that as the country sees record numbers hit facilities and the general public, the vaccine also will be “another line of defense against this deadly virus if cases rise within their surrounding communities.” 

Nationwide, deaths stemming from long-term care facilities account for 40% of all COVID-19 fatalities. For 18 states, they account for at least 50% of all deaths. 

“Post-Thanksgiving surges in cases are unlikely to spare this community and will likely lead to an even higher death toll in long-term care facilities, raising questions about whether nursing homes and other facilities are able to protect their residents and, if not, what actions can be taken to mitigate the threat posed by the virus,” KFF analysts stated.