As major pharmacy retailers and long-term care pharmacies continue to coordinate the largest and fastest-produced vaccine effort in U.S. history, senior living and skilled nursing providers are bracing for anticipated and unforeseen challenges in the weeks and months ahead.

At the beginning this year, the industry acknowledged that it would face several challenges with vaccine distribution, particularly as additional vaccines were expected to be rolled out.
When it comes to safety and efficacy issues, LeadingAge’s vice president of regulatory affairs, Janine Finck-Boyle, said that side effects and supply issues have been among the primary concerns.

In skilled nursing settings, she said, “Multidose vaccines will need to be carefully coordinated, especially as residents are admitted and discharged sometimes in a matter of days, meaning they may not have had a first dose and may need to get a second dose in another setting.”

Combatting the vaccine skeptics has been another battle, even as initial reports showed 90% and higher efficacy for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and other companies’ versions. As of press time, workers were lagging behind residents in their willingness to receive the vaccine. Finck-Boyle said LeadingAge will continue working with state and local partners “on the delicate question of whether vaccine mandates can or should be considered.” To date, senior living employers such as ALG Senior, Atria, Civitas and Juniper have mandated employee vaccination.

As for training and education, selling the importance of the vaccine would seem easy given the experiences of 2020, but many stakeholders have noted that they have had their work cut out for them.

“If the data show a 90% efficaciousness with the vaccine, then a full detailed effort behind vaccine education has to occur,” said T.J. Griffin, PharMerica‘s chief pharmacy officer.

Although vaccines are free to recipients, the costs the industry has endured for personal protective equipment and other expenses have been “crushing,” said LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan.

“This is COVID’s darkest hour — and a final test for the conscience of Congress,” Sloan said as she implored lawmakers to free up additional Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.