High-priority long-term care residents may wait weeks for COVID-19 vaccines

More than 400 people in Washington got a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on the first day, but not a single long-term care resident was among them.

Life-saving doses are in Washington state but those who are at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19 are still waiting to be vaccinated. People associated with long-term care facilities make up just six percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases, but more than half of the state’s deaths.

While this population is part of the first priority to be vaccinated, there are unique challenges leading to delays.

“We’ll be building fully to reach all long-term care facilities throughout the month of January, so it does require some startup,” said Michele Roberts, acting assistant secretary for the state’s Department of Health.

Roberts said one of the 32 trays of Pfizer vaccine doses that arrived this week was given to a local pharmacy working with long-term care facilities. She said that the pharmacy plans to start vaccinations Monday.

Those vaccinations will not go to the majority of long-term care facilities, which have signed up for a federal program that’ll take weeks to stand up, using Walgreens and CVS pharmacies. 

“There’s a 2-week start-up time to begin that program so we have given that notification and we also have to set aside vaccine doses to be able to start, so all of that is in process,” Roberts said.

She said they will be able to set aside enough doses to start vaccinations with the federal program on Dec. 28, two weeks after the first vaccines arrived. 

Another challenge facing the process of vaccinating long-term care residents is getting consent from those involved. Because some of the residents are unable to give consent, the facility will need to work with family members to verify being able to vaccinate. 

While a planning process for that is well underway, according to Roberts, it still is taking time while the pandemic surges on.