With the promise of COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon and a nod to prioritizing senior living and other long-term care residents as the first recipients of those vaccines, provider organizations are turning their attention to states, where governors are creating distribution plans.

The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living and the American Seniors Housing Association this week urged members of the National Governors Association to follow the recommendation that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices made Tuesday. That’s when committee members voted to recommend that healthcare personnel and residents in assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities be offered vaccination in the first phase of a national vaccine rollout program.

“Given the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread of this virus, combined with the outbreak of community spread across the U.S., we are extremely hopeful this vaccine will literally be a lifesaver for thousands of residents and expedite the reopening of our facilities to family members and loved ones,” AHCA / NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson and NCAL Executive Director Scott Tittle said Wednesday in a letter to the NGA. 

An expedited rollout of the vaccine, they added, is “vitally important” given the level of community spread around the country.

“A one-month delay in administering the vaccine at long-term care facilities could cost more than 10,000 of our residents their lives,” Parkinson and Tittle said. “The speed of which states can vaccinate our resident has significant life or death consequences.”

In a separate letter on Wednesday to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, NGA chair and vice chair, respectively, ASHA President David Schless said that the vaccine will give older adults and the staff who serve them in senior living communities “a fighting chance against the virus.” Senior living communities, he added, have enrolled in a program designating federal pharmacy partners Walgreens and CVS Health to provide the vaccines in long-term care and are “encouraged that they will soon see some relief from the nightmare that has taken so many lives living in our communities.”

Schless also asked that governors expressly recognize assisted living, independent living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities — not just skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes — in their distribution plans.

“Please adopt the ACIP allocation strategy that places healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities, including senior living, in priority status for distribution of the vaccine,” Schless wrote.

Plea to Congress for support

Meanwhile, on Thursday, following a bipartisan proposal earlier this week for a $908 billion COVID stimulus bill, and Democrats’ apparent willingness to reduce a $2 trillion ask for the next round or coronavirus relief, LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan again called on Congress to prioritize older Americans.

Now is Congress’ turn to lead after ACIP “showed what it means to prioritize the lives of older Americans, who’ve suffered 80% of all COVID deaths,” Sloan said.

“As the death toll among people over 65 nears 200,000, it’s time for our elected representatives to put partisanship aside and provide real relief for older Americans who’ve been ignored too often during the worst pandemic in a century,” she said, adding that providers are still struggling to access and pay for the personal protective equipment, testing, supplies and staffing.

“COVID-related costs are staggering, they are mounting, and they are unsustainable,” Sloan said. “Some providers are shutting down, and more will follow unless Congress steps up and provides robust support.”