(TNS) - Colleen Peters, a resident of StoryPoint Senior Living in Portage, thought she would get her COVID-19 vaccination last week, only to see the vaccination clinic at the complex canceled.
“We were told they didn’t have enough vaccine,” Peters said. “I told my son, we live six blocks from the place where they make it and we still can’t get it.”
The vaccination clinic has been rescheduled for Thursday, Jan. 14, much to joy of Peters and her fellow StoryPoint residents, who are ready to put the pandemic behind them.
“We’re hopeful” it will happen, Peters said. “We all see it as a step forward.”
Michigan’s program to vaccinate about 300,000 residents and staff at long-term care facilities launched on Dec. 28, but it’s been very slow going so far: As of Sunday, Jan. 10, only 28,775 have gotten their first shot.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is hoping that pace picks up considerably this week. And to make sure that’s happens, MDHSS has decided the state’s shipments of the Moderna vaccine this week and next are now going to the Long-term Care Facility Pharmacy Partnership Program.
That will give the program more than, 300,000 vaccine doses, MDHHS spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said, an indication that the long-term care vaccination is program a top priority.
That diversion of Moderna vaccine “is “hard for hospitals and public-health agencies” who are seeing their allocations reduced as a result, said Marcus Cheatham, health officer for the Mid-Michigan District Health Department, which oversees Clinton, Gratiot and Montcalm counties.
“But it’s the right decision,” he said. “Almost 40% of the (COVID-19) deaths have been in long-term care. So if you want to reduce our mortality numbers really fast, that’s the way to make it happen. We could cut the death rate in half and that would be beautiful thing.”
More than 5,000 long-term care residents in Michigan have died of COVID-19 since March, as have 65 staffers at those facilities, state data shows.
The long-term care vaccination program is being carried out through a partnership between the federal government and CVS and Walgreens pharmacies.
Each facility in the federal program has been paired with CVS or Walgreens. The pharmacies are bringing staff into the nursing homes to set up vaccination clinics for residents and employees, as well as contract workers such as doctors and physical therapists who work with residents.
CVS started Dec. 28 and, as of Jan. 8, had held clinics at 271 of the 990 Michigan facilities it was assigned. A total of 20,181 were immunized at those clinics, according to MDHSS.
Walgreen’s was assigned 4,333 facilities and started Jan. 4. A total of 127 clinics have been held so far, in which 8,592 individuals were immunized.
The two pharmacies have scheduled another 426 clinics this week, according to MDHSS.
“We are meeting with CVS and Walgreens regularly to assure the program is advancing quickly and we can identify any potential challenges,” Sutfin said, adding the agency is “looking into avenues to accelerate the vaccination of those facilities, including potentially having other entities participate.”
The LTC program includes skilled nursing facilities, assisted-living complexes, personal care homes, residential care, adult family homes, adult foster homes, HUD 202 housing and veterans’ homes.
“We also know there are some facilities that are not enrolled in the (federal) program and are being vaccinated through partnerships directly with the local health departments,” Sutfin said
Among those cheering the ramping up of the program is Melissa Samuel, president of the Health Care Association of Michigan Nursing, which represents operators of long-term care facilities.
COVID-19 vaccinations begin in Michigan’s long-term care facilities
“I know how desperate some of our people are to get the vaccine,” she said.
Still while many long-term care residents are anxious to be vaccinated, many employees of the facilities are much more hesitant, Samuel acknowledged.
Because the Federal Drug Administration approved the coronavirus vaccines under an emergency use authorization, the vast majority of employers are not mandating the vaccine for staff although they are strongly encouraging it.
“Given residents’ vulnerability to the virus, it’s not surprising the demand in that group would be considerably higher” than among workers, Samuel said. “It comes down to health-care organizations really doing that education (on why the vaccine is important) and I know that is happening.
Samuel said she didn’t have data yet on the percentage of staff getting the shots, but acknowledged she’s hearing about resistance.
That’s a big concern from a public-health perspective. It’s especially important for long-term care staff to be immunized since outbreaks in the facilities most commonly occur because the virus is unintentionally introduced by an asymptomatic employee.
“I think we’re going to need to give a bit more time and a bit more education” to improve vaccination rates among staff, Samuel said. “Although in my mind, what’s most important right now is getting the residents vaccinated, so they’re protected.”
The Moderna vaccine requires a second dose four weeks after the first. The vaccine has shown to be 95% effective against coronavirus a few weeks after the second shot.
Facilities with high vaccination rates may be able to loosen current structures on visits and socializing in a few months, depending on coronavirus rates in the general community, Samuel said.
“There are a lot of factors we’ve got look at,” she said. “We want to open the facilities as quickly as possible, but even more importantly, as safely as possible. We don’t want to go backwards.
“We need to get this virus under control, and gosh, that can’t happen soon enough for all of us.”
Read more on MLive:
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