National industry associations are promising to continue to advocate that senior living providers be prioritized and assisted in COVID-19 vaccination efforts following Friday’s endorsement of boosters of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director for long-term care residents, healthcare workers and some others.
“It is our hope that the federal government and states will ensure access to the vaccine in all settings serving older adults, including independent living communities,” American Seniors Housing Association President David Schless told McKnight’s Senior Living.
Independent living communities, including those that are part of continuing care retirement communities, were not included in the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program that saw initial COVID-19 vaccination clinics roll out in nursing homes and assisted living communities beginning in December 2020.
CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., announced Friday that the CDC is recommending that long-term care residents and people aged 65 or more years, as well as people aged 50 to 64 years with underlying medical conditions, should receive a booster of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine. The CDC also announced that people such as healthcare workers who are aged 18 to 64 years and “are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional setting,” as well as people aged 18 to 49 years with underlying medical conditions, may receive a booster of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine.
The CDC recommendation only applies to those who received the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine, due to the availability of data, Walensky said. “We will address, with the same sense of urgency, recommendations for the Moderna and J&J vaccines as soon as those data are available,” she added.
The CDC director’s decision aligns with recommendations made Sept. 17 by the Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee and with the emergency use authorization amendment made by the FDA last Wednesday. It departs slightly from a recommendation made Thursday by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, however, because that committee did not endorse boosters for frontline workers.
“We’re certainly pleased to see that older adults over 65 — one of the populations most at risk to severe illness due to COVID-19 — will soon be receiving booster doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. And we appreciate Director Walensky’s decision to move forward in recommending that those working in potential high-risk settings, such as senior living, may receive the booster based on individual benefits and risks,” Argentum President and CEO James Balda told McKnight’s Senior Living.
“That recommendation will be integral in continuing to keep senior living communities safe. It is essential that the administration continues to prioritize these groups and do everything they can to support the resourcing needed for effective and efficient implementation of the additional doses,” he added.
David Gifford, M.D., MPH, chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, said the data review and subsequent recommendations by the FDA and CDC offer “another layer of protection that we need to fight this virus that uniquely targets our vulnerable long-term care population.”
“Virtually all nursing homes and some assisted living communities already have steady access to COVID-19 vaccines through a long-term care pharmacy, and we anticipate the booster shot process will be fairly straightforward and the vaccines will be available quickly for these providers,” he said in a statement. “For those assisted living communities and other senior living settings that may not have a relationship with a long-term care pharmacy, we appreciate the federal government helping many of these providers connect with a specific local pharmacy or vaccine provider.”
AHCA and NCAL, Gifford added, also are calling on state governments to help coordinate the distribution and administration of booster shots to senior living communities. And the association will continue to work to increase vaccination rates among long-term care workers, who remain vaccinated at a lower rate than long-term care residents, he said.
A LeadingAge spokesperson said that “particularly as the delta variant spreads, the availability of boosters for older adults — who’ve been disproportionately impacted by COVID — and for care workers is welcome additional protection.”
The association “is working closely with the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control to ensure booster access for older adults and care workers wherever they live and work — in nursing homes as well as in home health, senior living communities and other care settings — across the aging services continuum,” the spokesperson said.
The CDC’s recommendation is that an individual can receive a booster shot at least six months after receiving the last of the two Pfizer injections that were part of the original vaccination process. Because many long-term care residents received their initial vaccinations in late 2020 and early 2021, vaccination clinics in assisted living communities and nursing homes, as well as other vaccination efforts, can begin immediately.
Since Friday’s announcement, governors in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, New York, Vermont and West Virginia were among those issuing statements or press releases describing their support of the federal recommendations and their intent that the administration of COVID vaccine boosters in their states begin immediately.
The CDC said that people will continue to be considered fully vaccinated after having received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. But at least one senior living company, California-based Integral Senior Living/Solstice Senior Living, previously announced that it planned to require the booster, where applicable, as a condition of employment.
Even before Friday’s announcement by the CDC, some senior living communities announced that they were planning on-site clinics at which the vaccine will be administered (and at least one already had held a clinic). After the release of Walensky’s recommendation, national drugstore chains, among them CVS Health, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Walmart, announced that booster shots were available immediately at their pharmacies.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said Friday that it will cover COVID-19 booster shots at no cost for eligible people covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most commercial health insurance.
“CMS is ensuring that cost is not a barrier to access, including for boosters,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement.