Experts And Government Officials Agree: Long Term Care Residents And Staff Must Be Prioritized For COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Federal approval of a COVID-19 vaccine could be days away, but with a limited supply, state officials must determine who will receive the vaccine first.

Nursing homes and assisted living communities suffered from lack of resources in the early months of the pandemic. Personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and staffing support were directed to hospitals and other health care sectors, leaving long term care providers pleading for help and struggling to maintain control of the virus.

Now that a vaccine is on the horizon, long term care residents and staff must be first in line for distribution. Given the surge in COVID cases across the country and virus’ ability to spread through asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals, long term care providers need every available defense to successfully combat the virus and save thousands of lives.

Experts and government officials agree that long term care facilities deserve priority for the vaccine:

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo: “Yesterday, the CDC's advisory committee on immunization practices issued four more prioritization recommendations. They recommended front line healthcare workers and elderly people living in long term care facilities. That recommendation coincides with the priorities that we had established already so the CDC's recommendation reinforces the priorities we established.”
 
  • Florida Governor Ron DeSantis: “Florida is going to prioritize as follows: the top priority will be our residents of our long-term care facilities. They are at the greatest risk and this vaccine could have a tremendously positive impact on them.”
 
  • Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds: “The federal government has developed a long term care pharmacy partnership, and that is a program that leverages national pharmacies to help administer the vaccine in long term care facilities … This will allow us to quickly and efficiently vaccine our most vulnerable population first in communities across the state.”
 
  • Georgia Governor Brian Kemp: “We will expect to be able to begin vaccinating individuals by the second or third week in December… Assuming all goes well with the federal government’s review of data at FDA and CDC establishing priority populations for initial distribution, which includes long term care facilities, staff and other frontline healthcare workers.”
 
  • Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear: “Every week we do not vaccinate long-term care residents, we lose them. With vaccines, we can provide such better protection to these individuals … We’ve been taking aggressive steps since the beginning of this virus, committed to fighting back, not surrendering to it or accepting avoidable loss.”
 
  • Centers For Medicare And Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma: “We’ve already seen some of the recommendations from the advisory committees and the CDC that obviously we’re going to be prioritizing those that are most at risk. What comes top of mind for me is our nursing homes residents, they’ve been hit particularly hard by this, and our seniors just in general.”
 
  • Former U.S. Food & Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb: “We’re not going to have enough supply to vaccinate everyone. The federal government this week, on December 1st, is going to make recommendations on who should get the vaccine first, the so-called 1a group, the people who should get it immediately when it becomes available hopefully in December … That is going to be health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.”
 
  • U.S. Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar: “Protecting the vulnerable has been the number one priority of the Trump Administration’s response to COVID-19, and that commitment will continue through distributing a safe and effective vaccine earliest to those who need it most.” 

​On Tuesday, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a panel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), decided to include long term care residents and staff, including nursing homes and assisted living communities, for the first round “1a” of vaccine distribution. The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) released a statement applauding the CDC for their decision and sent a letter on Thursday to the National Governors Association urging governors to take immediate action. In the letter, AHCA/NCAL wrote: 

“An expediated rollout of the vaccine for our long term care residents and caregivers is vitally important given the level of COVID in our community and in long term care facilities right now.  A one-month delay in administering the vaccine at long term care facilities could cost more than 10,000 of our residents their lives. The speed of which states can vaccinate our residents has significant life or death consequences.

“The long term care industry, including nursing homes and assisted living communities, urge you to direct your public health agencies to ensure long term care residents and staff are the first group to receive the vaccine within this initial Phase 1a distribution to save as many lives as possible.”

As state officials make these important decisions, vulnerable seniors and frontline workers in our nursing homes and assisted living communities must ​be top of mind. The long term care sector experienced devastating losses because they were not made a priority in the beginning. They cannot be forgotten now. Ensuring they are among the first to receive the vaccine in the initial round of distribution will help save thousands of lives. 

ABOUT AHCA/NCAL
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) represents more than 14,000 non-profit and proprietary skilled nursing centers, assisted living communities, sub-acute centers and homes for individuals with intellectual and development disabilities. By delivering solutions for quality care, AHCA/NCAL aims to improve the lives of the millions of frail, elderly and individuals with disabilities who receive long term or post-acute care in our member facilities each day. For more information, please visit www.ahcancal.org