The nation’s largest nursing home association is calling on state governors to prioritize residents and staff in long-term care facilities for an eventual COVID-19 vaccine as the leaders prepare to submit plans on how their state will distribute the doses. 

The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living issued the plea on Tuesday in a letter to the National Governors Association and state governors. State leaders and jurisdictions are required to submit plans on how they will administer and distribute a vaccine to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by Oct. 16 as part of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

“Given that long-term care facilities care for our most vulnerable when it comes to this virus and employ hundreds of thousands of essential health care workers, we urge that your plans to the CDC make residents and staff of these settings the highest priority for the vaccine,” AHCA President and CEO Mark Parkinson and NCAL Executive Director Scott Tittle wrote.  “Those who reside in long-term care facilities are especially susceptible to this novel virus.” 

The NGA on Tuesday said in an emailed statement to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News that it had no formal response to the letter. The association noted, on background, that the federal government is still determining the priority groups anyway. States then, based on the level of allocations they receive, will have to prioritize within those groups outlined by the feds. It added that the general consensus is that it will be healthcare personnel first, including LTCF staff. 

The NGA in August issued a memo to state governors to help them plan for mass distribution of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine. That guidance did call for state leaders to develop prioritization schedules based on federal guidelines, disease burden and vaccine supply. The memo noted “a tiered approach for vaccine distribution will be utilized,” according to federal health officials. 

“The methodology for the allocation of the vaccine will build upon guidance developed as part of pandemic flu planning. The method will be adjusted based on ‘experience during the first wave of the COVID19 response, data on the virus and its impact on populations and the performance of each vaccine, and the needs of the essential workforce,’ the memo explained. 

The organization also noted that the federal government has previously used a five-tiered approach to vaccine distribution. Critical healthcare personnel were included in Tier 1, while high-risk adults and seniors ages 65 and older were under Tier 4. 

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) promised last week that nursing home residents and staff members in his state will be the first to receive a coronavirus vaccine. President Trump has also pledged that nursing homes and seniors would be among the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine once it’s released. 

Parkinson and Title noted that prioritization should stretch to all types of long-term care facilities, spanning nursing homes, assisted living and memory care communities, intermediate care facilities for individuals with developmental disabilities, and independent living communities. 

They added that while COVID-19 cases in all long-term care facilities account for only 8 percent of total cases nationwide, they account for 41% percent of all COVID-19 related deaths, according to federal data. 

“These state vaccination distribution plans are critical in setting the proper path forward and giving us a light at the end of a dark tunnel. We are grateful to the administrations that have already announced that their vaccine distribution plans will prioritize long-term care residents and staff, and we hope all states and territories will follow suit,” they wrote.