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Vaccinations could start for vulnerable long-term care residents as soon as next week

West Virginia nursing homes, which have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic, may begin receiving vaccinations early next week with many of the residents and staff completing vaccination over the coming few weeks.

Marty Wright

“My hope is the vaccine proves to be as effective as the clinical trials have indicated, and we can start turning the tide against this virus,” said Marty Wright, chief executive officer of the West Virginia Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes.

West Virginia officials have prioritized long-term care residents and staff, along with front-line healthcare workers, for the first doses of the vaccine as it rolls out.

A key committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a meeting set for Thursday that could result in emergency authorization of the vaccine produced by Pfizer. The FDA then could announce its authorization within just a few days.

In West Virginia, Wright suggested the vaccine could be available for nursing homes as soon as next Tuesday.

“We hope to have it in here by as early as the next six or seven days in West Virginia,” Wright said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

“Both residents and staff will be vaccinated as early as next week.”

A vaccine produced by Moderna is then expected to be available about a week after the Pfizer rollout.

West Virginia aims to have all long-term care facilities vaccinated with the first dose within the first three weeks of distribution. That would mean all facilities being fully vaccinated with a second dose by the end of January.

Gov. Jim Justice

Gov. Jim Justice announced that West Virginia officials submitted the state’s initial vaccine order to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.

In total, 16,575 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were ordered, the maximum weekly ordering cap allowed for West Virginia at this time.

The governor announced that over the coming weeks West Virginia plans to receive an initial allocation of about 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. West Virginia also plans to receive an initial allocation of approximately 26,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine shortly after the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine.

“We know that our supply will continue to increase going forward,” Justice said. “I am very hopeful that, as we continue to push like crazy, and as this thing continues to ramp up, that we will be in a situation very soon where we will be able to vaccinate anyone who wants to be vaccinated.”

Wright said plans are being refined for the rollout to nursing homes and assisted living centers.

“It’s very encouraging and inspiring to see what’s going on behind the scenes,” Wright said.

Nursing homes will be partnered with pharmacies, which will receive the vaccine from hubs identified by the state.

“The pharmacy will get the vaccine from the hub and bring to each facility and do on-site vaccinations of staff and residents,” Wright said.

There are specific steps with the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be kept at ultra-low temperatures.

“Once it comes out of the cold and you reconstitute it to make it a true shot that goes into your arm, you have to do it within six hours,” Wright said.

“It’s a really complex system, but I’ve been really inspired with the work that’s going on.”

Both Pfizer and Moderna require two doses. Pfizer’s vaccine requires a second dose 21 days after the first. And Moderna’s requires a second dose 28 days after the first.

For assisted living centers and nursing homes, Wright said the pharmacies will return to the sites to administer the second doses.

West Virginia nursing homes have been especially hard-hit by covid-19, with state leaders like coronavirus response coordinator Clay Marsh noting that residents have made up almost half of state pandemic deaths.

There are now 117 outbreaks in long-term care facilities across the state, up from 113 such outbreaks on Friday.

Wright sees a ray of hope for nursing home residents.

“To get them prioritized is really going to have a dramatic impact in the coming months,” Wright said. “This should be an effective vaccine, especially for the elderly population.”

Across the country, nursing homes are seeing the worst outbreak since last spring with a record number of more than 18,000 new cases a week because of the rapid increase of community spread, representatives of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living said this week.

“Unfortunately, we are also seeing COVID-related deaths in nursing homes increase to more than 2,000 per week,” said Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of the organizations.

The organizations urged states like West Virginia to prioritize long-term care facilities for vaccinations.

“A one-month delay in distributing the vaccine to all long term care residents and caregivers, could result in more than 20,000 of our residents losing their life when a vaccine could have saved them,” Parkinson said this week.

“In order to protect our residents and caregivers, long term care providers need states to distribute the vaccine as soon as humanly possible and take aggressive action to reduce the level of COVID in their state.”

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