Vaccination efforts in long-term care facilities are expected to accelerate noticeably in the coming days and weeks, the nation’s top federal health official asserted Wednesday. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar discussed the relatively low number of vaccine doses administered in long-term facilities despite the medication being available during a press briefing. 

Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday revealed that just 14% of COVID-19 vaccine doses issued to facilities had actually been given to residents and workers. One long-term care expert called the data “absolutely unconscionable.”

Azar said “it’s important to remember with our long-term care facilities [and] our nursing homes … a significant number of the patients there are in a medical condition such that they aren’t able to consent on their own for some medical procedures, including getting an [Emergency Use Authorized] vaccine.”

“That preparatory work started really as soon as the nursing homes opted into the CVS or Walgreens programs and has continued. The vaccine is available and I do believe we’ll be seeing a significant ramp-up of those vaccines getting into nursing home patients,” Azar explained. 

He added the federal government also plans to have the leadership of CVS and Walgreens and state governors talk to ensure there’s clarity about the process and support for getting residents and staff quickly vaccinated. 

AHCA: OK by us

The American Health Care Association said Wednesday that it knew the vaccine program for long-term care would take time to get fully going and that “it’s not aware of widespread issues or delays with this vaccine rollout.” 

Image of Mark Parkinson, president and CEO, AHCA/NCAL
Mark Parkinson, president

“If there were (problems), we would be among the first to sound the alarm,” AHCA President and CEO Mark Parkinson said in a statement.

“The plan from the beginning was to vaccinate long-term care residents and staff with the first dose over three to four weeks, beginning the last two weeks of December. Therefore, we are in the midst of the pharmacy partnership program really getting underway, and we believe this program is operating in accordance with its intended timeline,” Parkinson said. 

He added that the association’s main focus right now is to address vaccine hesitancy among long-term care workers. An early December survey of certified nursing assistants found that nearly three out of four of the workers said they wouldn’t take the vaccine, citing skepticism over the rapidity of its launch and lack of information on potential risks.

“This is a monumental effort to vaccinate millions of our nation’s vulnerable seniors and their caregivers, and we are confident and grateful that everyone involved is working as hard and as fast as they can while still ensuring we get this right,” Parkinson added.