We are in our 11th month navigating COVID-19. Safe and effective vaccines bring hope and generate a host of questions!
The good news – more and more people are getting vaccinated and COVID positivity rates are dropping in the areas we serve. When it comes to vaccinations, states have been interpreting federal phasing guidance in different ways, which has created a flurry of different responses. We have much grace for officials who are making difficult decisions and sleeping few precious hours 11 months into this pandemic. We truly believe that federal and state agencies and pharmacy partners providing vaccinations have good intentions and are striving to do the best that they can.
Of course, we all wish things were going faster! We have heard from many frustrated people, particularly our independent living residents, given the variability by state and even county in how congregate living settings are being prioritized.
Assisted living and care center residents
Long-term care residents and caregivers were designated by the CDC and state health departments as highest priority (phase 1A) to be vaccinated and PHS began hosting vaccination clinics in late December through the CDC Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care Program. The clinics, conducted by designated pharmacies, continue to take place at PHS sites for residents and staff who live and work in long-term care settings including care centers and assisted living. Most of our locations have completed their first clinics with second and third rounds scheduled for the booster doses.
Independent living residents
The majority of PHS residents live in townhomes and senior apartments – around 5,000 people. COVID has changed much for these individuals but the spirit and engagement of community life is still alive. While it’s not always easy, residents are supporting one another in powerful ways and are practicing COVID precautions to help keep everyone safe. Eleven months into the pandemic, we are aware of only 80 positive COVID cases among all these residents. This is a dramatically lower positivity rate than the overall US population, now with over 25 million confirmed cases.
Nonetheless, given the elevated risk of COVID for older adults, we are exploring a host of options to bring vaccination clinics to independent living residents. We are advocating strongly for independent living residents to be included in on-site clinics for the ease and safety of residents who often share community spaces with their neighbors who receive long-term care services. We are encouraged by and share in the eagerness of everyone asking about how and when they can roll up their sleeves to be vaccinated!
The CDC has recommended that states move to phases 1B and 1C of vaccine distribution, including those aged 65+. PHS is working closely with state and county health departments to make on-site clinics available to independent living residents. Thus far, only state and county health departments, hospital systems and pharmacies have been given direct allocations of the vaccine, so senior providers like PHS are coordinating with these agencies and providers to try and get access to the precious few doses available for these new priority groups.
We’re happy to report that we are having a measure of success in arranging vaccination clinics at some of our locations to include independent living residents. In several instances, the pharmacies providing vaccinations through the federal pharmacy partnership program have enough supply to provide doses for independent living but, in many cases, we are told that this is not yet possible (we keep asking). There are also different approaches state-by-state. Iowa took an early “whole house” approach to senior living communities, including all long-term care and independent residents in vaccine clinics. Wisconsin prioritized nursing homes almost exclusively in the first round of clinics, which delayed vaccinations for assisted living residents but now include independent living residents as well. Minnesota prioritized long-term care settings and just recently recommended that independent residents be included in on-site clinics moving forward.
PHS is also coordinating with county public health offices, which sometimes are able to provide clinics in our independent living settings. We’re grateful for these advances but about half of our 5,000 residents living in senior apartments are still waiting for the good news that the vaccine is coming to them. Until that happens, we won’t rest.
Community safeguards continue
As the vaccination process continues, we all wish we could ditch the masks and resume normal activity. However, experts need to verify the protection that COVID-19 vaccinations provide before changing recommended steps everyone should take to slow the spread of the virus.
We understand how important it is to keep residents connected with their families and we are doing everything we can to open the doors to visitors in all our communities when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, our current visitor policies and the host of safeguards we have in place will remain as guided by federal and state health agencies. We expect it will be some time before we see major policy updates. Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities, will also affect these decisions.
Click here for more information and resources about vaccinations at PHS.