Nursing homes fear Biden logjam as Trump vaccine program ends

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Nursing home staffers and new residents could experience delays in getting the coronavirus vaccine because the Trump administration program that provides the doses is ending, worried long-term care officials said.

Low vaccination rates among staffers — coupled with the two-dose regime — has compounded the problem.

About half of nursing home staffers statewide have received the shot compared to 70 percent of residents.

The vaccination rate is worse in New York City, where 45 percent of staffers at nursing homes were vaccinated compared to 67 percent for residents. Only 36 percent of Brooklyn nursing home staffers have gotten anti-COVID-19 shots.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday the state will start reallocating extra or unused shots from the nursing home program to the general program, given the shortage of doses available to other eligible New Yorkers.

About 15,000 residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities were killed by the coronavirus.

Getting residents and staffers vaccinated is a pressing issue to curb the spread of the killer bug among the frail elderly in those facilities.

But part of the federal Operation Warp Speed program — which administers doses of the vaccines to nursing homes via partner pharmacies CVS and Walgreens — is scheduled to end within two two weeks when all facilities have completed their three days worth of vaccine clinics.

The Warp Speed program, initiated by former President Trump, will be folded into a revamped vaccination program run by team Biden.

“OWS is the Trump team’s name for their program. We are phasing in a new structure, which will have a different name than OWS,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki tweeted last month.

“Many of the public servants will be essential to our response, but urgent need to address failures of the Trump team approach to vaccine distribution.”

The White House had no immediate comment on what role, if any, it would have in delivering vaccines to nursing homes going forward.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki at a press briefing on February 10, 2021.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki at a press briefing on February 10, 2021.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The phase-out of the Warp Speed program has nursing home operators concerned about how they’re going to get the remaining unvaccinated individuals shots, and whether staffers will be forced to go off-site to get inoculated.

The federal program administers doses over three clinical days, allowing for a staggered schedule of staff and residents to get the vaccine. New York’s 610 nursing homes have either completed three days to deliver shots or are about to.

Industry sources told The Post they’ve been asking for guidance from the new Biden administration and state Health Department for weeks about how to proceed with vaccinations when the federal program ends.

The two-dose regime required for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has created logistical challenges, nursing home sources said.

The nursing home operators said they’ve been told they can’t give out first doses to people who had previously refused, or to give the vaccine to newly admitted residents on the last clinical day, out of concern of not knowing whether they could get a second dose to complete the two-dose vaccination.

“This didn’t sneak up on anyone — we can all read the calendar. We wish [the DOH] had thought of this three weeks ago and come up with a way to do a follow-up, otherwise we could’ve given first shots on the third day. Then it could’ve been great because we would’ve gotten more people vaccinated,” said Jim Clyne, CEO of LeadingAge New York, a nursing home advocacy group:

“If we had a way to continue to vaccinate we could continue to educate the staff. The more vaccinating we do and the easier we make it for people , we could convince people to get vaccinated,” he added.

Clyne said telling employees to go to a state site that could be miles from their house “is not a way to encourage them. Having it on site is a way to get more people the vaccines.”

Industry officials and the DOH had an emergency phone call on the topic Tuesday, and health officials said the agency is trying to sign up all nursing homes into the state’s general vaccine program — which would allow them to order shots directly and administer them on-site.

They still haven’t gotten answers from the state on whether to give a first dose to new nursing home residents.

“There is still active COVID in nursing homes … despite our precautions and the irony is that person may literally be sharing a room with another individual who is going to get the vaccine but they can’t,” Elaine Healy, a nursing home medical director, who serves on an infection control panel with the Society for Post-Acute and Long Term Care Medicine.

“It’s a missed opportunity every day… It’s the same issue with the staff except the patients are more at risk. What we would like to see is an immediate endorsement of the appropriateness of giving that first vaccine at the third clinic, even if that’s not clear at this point in time of how that facility will get that second dose,” Healy said.

State health officials confirmed that the federal nursing home vaccination programs is winding down and they are working with the facility operators to devise plans to continue offering shots.

“Vaccinating nursing home staff and residents remains a top priority. To ensure vaccination continues after the federal program ends, DOH has been working with facilities to ensure they – or through partnership with clinical partners – have the ability to offer vaccinations to their residents and staff on an ongoing basis, and future dose allocations will be provided to accomplish this purpose” said Health Department spokesman Gary Holmes.

“We continue our goal of getting as many New Yorkers vaccinated as safely and quickly as possible – particularly our most vulnerable populations.”





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Kimberly Wilson

Kimberly Wilson

Kimberly Wilson is the author of the Top Stories and International News section of Newzinto.