Long-term care facilities say Pennsylvania’s vaccine allocation snubs them

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Long-term care facilities said Thursday that Pennsylvania’s distribution of COVID-19 vaccines snubs them, despite their priority status.

“Pennsylvania has allocated less than 20 percent of its vaccine supply to long-term care facilities,” said Zach Shamberg, CEO and President of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. “This is both shocking and insulting.”

The federal government rolled out its national pharmacy partnership to inoculate staff and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities on Dec. 28. In response to Shamberg’s comments, Gov. Tom Wolf said 70 percent of those eligible for vaccination in that group have received their first dose, so far, leading him to question the association’s data.

“Are there things we could do to do a better job communicating with everyone in the state? Yes,” he said. “I think the results have been pretty good so far.”

Shamberg’s comments come as broader complaints about the state’s slow pace of immunization pressure public officials to fix the problem – though it’s unclear how that would be accomplished, until supply better matches demand. Pennsylvania receives about 300,000 doses a week for a pool of 4 million eligible residents.

“I know the vaccine distribution is going slower than we’d like, and that’s frustrating to all of us,” Wolf said.

But the slow pace comes at a human cost, Shamberg said. Some 2,422 residents in long-term care facilities died between mid-December and mid-January, representing 27 percent of COVID-19-related nursing home deaths in the state.

“Since the start of this pandemic, providers have been waiting for a remedy to protect their vulnerable residents and the workers who care for them,” he said. “We are nearly two months into the state’s vaccine rollout, and some providers are still waiting.”

Shamberg said the state should allocate more than 18 percent of its weekly vaccination supply to long-term care facilities. It should also develop a plan to pick up where the federal partnership will leave off and organize mass vaccination clinics to lower community spread and lessen the risk for long-term care facilities in general.

“We’ve created a groundswell of enthusiasm and hope on our campuses with the initial vaccination clinics,” said Meredith Mills, chief operating officer with Country Meadows Retirement Community. “We need a plan from the Department of Health and other governing bodies on how to continue vaccinating future staff joining our company and residents moving in.”

Wolf discouraged state-by-state comparisons of vaccine administration, noting that demographics play a huge role in how the program runs. He said successes at the county level – where counselors help elderly residents secure vaccination appointments – continue to support the administration’s preference for a localized approach.

“Community-based solutions like these are being developed every day, and my administration is working to support them,” Wolf said. “We’ll continue to lift up successes so that communities across the commonwealth can learn from one another, but we can’t expect a cookie-cutter approach. Every community is different, and the solutions that work in Butler County may not be the ones that are most needed in Luzerne County or any other county in the state.”

But for Shamberg, Florida’s decision to allocate half of its doses to long-term care facilities delivered better outcomes. The state moved so quickly through its vulnerable populations that now the general public has begun receiving their first doses.

“The data is clear: long-term care has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, yet, providers, workers and residents still seem to be fighting for prioritization for a lifesaving vaccine,” he said.

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