Michael Wasserman headshot
Michael Wasserman, M.D.

Although previous generations were defined by world wars and the Depression, a geriatrician with expertise in long-term care said Wednesday that the pandemic will define this generation.

“The pandemic is our ‘something,’ ” Michael Wasserman, M.D., said during a LeadingAge membership call. “Arguably, COVID is with us for the rest of our lives.”

Wasserman, a geriatrician who was a member of the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s “A Framework for Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus” committee, said he initially was against staff vaccine mandates based on historical and ethical reasons. After seeing the effect of 4 billion doses administered worldwide, however, he said he has changed his mind.

“I have completely changed what I believe as a clinician in mandating the vaccine, because unvaccinated people, staff or visitors are really the only vector that’s going to expose residents to the virus again,” Wasserman said. 

He called the delta variant the “first shot across the bow” and what everyone in healthcare fears. The variant, he added, is prolonging the pandemic and clearly is most dangerous to the unvaccinated. 

Wasserman, who also previously served as CEO for Rockport Healthcare Services, overseeing the largest nursing home chain in California, called the vaccine a “game-changer” and said it is the only way to allow society to “get pretty close to back to normal.”

“The COVID vaccine is unlike any vaccine the world has ever seen,” he said. “It’s lifesaving. If you get vaccinated, your chance of ending up in the hospital and dying of this virus are minimal, at most.”

Vaccination is a hot topic for an increasing number of long-term care and healthcare associations. LeadingAge and AMDA–The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine have called for a vaccine mandate for employees, whereas the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living and the American College of Health Care Administrators subsequently have said they “strongly” encourage employee vaccination.

An increasing number of senior living companies are putting COVID-19 vaccine mandates in place for employees. Charles E. Smith Life Communities announced one on Tuesday. Skilled nursing giant Genesis Healthcare, also active in senior living, announced a requirement late Monday, and LCS and Episcopal Retirement Services announced mandates late last week.

Other companies previously announcing employee mandates include Aegis Living, ALG Senior, American House Senior Living Communities, The Arbor Co., Ascension Living, Atria Senior Living, Benchmark Senior Living, CareOne, Civitas Senior Living, Enlivant, Five Star Senior Living, the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, Harbor Retirement Associates (for new employees), IntegraCare, Integral Senior Living, JEA Senior Living, Jewish Home Family, Juniper Communities, Masonicare, Pacific Retirement Services, Presbyterian Senior Living, Retirement Center Management, Silverado, Sunrise Senior Living, Trilogy Health Services, Trinity Health, Vi Living and Wesley Enhanced Living.