CDC Panel Votes to Include Assisted Living Workers, Residents in First Phase of Covid-19 Vaccination

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) panel is recommending that workers and residents of long-term care facilities, such as assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities, should be among the first people to receive a Covid-19 vaccine when it’s available.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on Tuesday voted 13 to 1 on an interim recommendation that health care workers, long-term care workers and residents of long-term care facilities should be among the first to receive the vaccine when it’s initially available. Once finalized with an approval from CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield, the agency will share its recommendations with the states, which are handling distribution.

Currently, three drugmakers — AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer — are seeking regulatory approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for three different Covid-19 vaccines.

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Upon approval, the vaccines may be in short supply for a period of weeks or months. The CDC expects about 40 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to be available by the end of December, or enough for about 20 million people. But they won’t all be available at once, and the CDC expects about 5 million to 10 million new vaccines will become available each week after approval during that time.

The federal government has partnered with Walgreens (Nasdaq: WBA) and CVS Health (NYSE: CVS) to provide and administer Covid-19 vaccines to long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, residential care homes and adult family homes.

The decision to prioritize long-term care workers and residents is a necessary one in part due to the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to ACIP Chair Dr. Jose Romero. About 39% of Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. have happened in long-term care facilities, according to the panel.

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“We see the growing number of health care providers that have become infected, and some of which unfortunately have passed away,” Romero said following the vote Tuesday. “You see that the individuals living in long-term, congregate facilities, mostly care facilities, are at exceptional risk for mortality, morbidity and due to this virus.”

Industry associations including the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), LeadingAge, Argentum and the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) have all urged the federal government to prioritize long-term care in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCA, applauded the panel for its decision Tuesday, and urged state leaders to do their part in following the guidance.

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“Given the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread of this virus combined with the explosion of community spread across the U.S., we are extremely hopeful this vaccine will literally be a lifesaver for thousands of residents and expedite the reopening of our facilities to family members and loved ones,” Parkinson said in a statement. “Now it is up to the governors and state health agencies to implement these recommendations and ensure our long term care residents and staff are prioritized in the actual rollout of the vaccine to provide this protection as soon as possible.”

The new guidance is “an important step in the right direction — if it’s acted on,” according to a statement from Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge.

“When the vaccines are available, federal and state policy makers must work closely with distributors to get them swiftly and safely to older adults who have suffered 4 out every 5 deaths from the pandemic,” Sloan said. “This is COVID’s darkest hour. But if everyone does their part, we can start properly protecting older Americans who have died in record numbers for almost a year.”

ASHA President David Schless said the organization supports the prioritization strategy, and appreciates the complexity associated with doing so.

“We are encouraged that the committee recognizes the front-line position our industry’s staff members have served during this pandemic and the disproportionate impact of this virus on seniors in our communities,” Schless said in a statement. “However, we must continue to be vigilant to ensure that all senior living communities have prioritized access to the vaccine as supplies become available.”

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