Vaccinations for Older Americans are Behind Schedule

When the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved in mid-December, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. This is especially true for the residents and staff of long-term care facilities who – after months of being ravaged by death – were slated to be among the first to receive the vaccine. However, this is not happening as swiftly and efficiently as originally anticipated, according to geriatricians.

As of mid-January, it is estimated that less than half of the 2.3 million residents and staff in care facilities have received the first dose of the vaccine. This is weeks behind initial assertations that the majority of elderly individuals would be inoculated by the beginning of the year.

AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins has necessitated increased transparency and clarification surrounding the vaccination of older Americans.

“The supply of the vaccine does not come close to meeting the current demand,” Jenkins wrote. “We are also concerned about distribution problems and we strongly urge you to immediately address whatever barriers may be causing the delays. Full-scale mobilization is necessary, and any slowdowns or early bottlenecks in the production and distribution systems need to be urgently addressed.”

This is particularly troubling after almost every state had supposedly pushed long-term care residents and staff to the front of their distribution lines.

In order to supply and administer doses to the high-risk, elderly population, the federal government partnered with national pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens. Despite this program’s theoretical efficiency, it has been off to a resoundingly slow start.

The prominent problems include miscommunication, the bustle of the holiday season, and remaining skepticism of the vaccine. While a recent poll found that 76% of older Americans want to be vaccinated, some are holding onto uncertainty about potential side effects of the vaccine.

“In order to increase public awareness of vaccine allocation decisions and improve confidence in a fair distribution process, it is important that we all have access to accurate, timely, and transparent information,” Jenkins said.

In addition to this call for clarity, AARP is assembling state-by-state vaccine guides, so your loved ones know when, how, and where to be vaccinated.

Sources and further reading:

Wait a Little Longer before Visiting Grandma and Grandpa

Now that the COVID-19 vaccination is beginning to reach elderly communities in long-term care facilities, the million-dollar question is ‘when can I visit my loved ones? Hope is certainly on the horizon, but medical experts and geriatricians warn that we’re not out of the weeds yet.

In more ways than one, elderly Americans have overcome insurmountable obstacles since March. The pandemic has disproportionately affected Americans 65 and older, as more than 35% of deaths are linked to long-term care facilities. Chronic loneliness has also plagued nursing homes. Residents reside in their rooms with few visitors from the outside world.

Almost universally, visits from friends and family are integral to the long-term health of elderly people, particularly for dementia patients who rely on routines and familiar faces. Studies have found that social isolation increases physical and mental deterioration, even connecting loneliness to increased odds of an early death.

Despite the need for interaction, it is likely that care facilities will retain a stringent visitor policy for the foreseeable future, meaning policies will remain mostly unchanged.

First and foremost, medical experts recommend that all residents and staff be vaccinated, as it is the swiftest path to normalcy. But even with inoculations, it is likely that visitors will need to continue providing a negative test result or vaccine verification, while also adhering to mask requirements. Of course, these policies vary from state to state and facility to facility, but the overarching guidelines from the federal government and experts will be the same.

While not much will change soon, the long-term outlook is promising. Assuming that vaccinations continue to be administered, it is likely for nursing homes to slowly relax their restrictions. The first step may be expanding the list of approved visitors to include immunized relatives and friends – the companions that are essential for sustained health.

For now, it is important to err on the side of caution and protection and keep our distance just a little bit longer.

Sources and further reading:

Now That Grandma Has Been Vaccinated, May I Visit Her?

Nursing Home Patients Are Dying of Loneliness