In December of 2020, the weight of the COVID pandemic was taking its toll on my household. Because it was so cold in Minnesota, my family did not have the opportunity to socialize outdoors as we had in the summer. Therefore, we spent a lot of time as a family unit indoors. I felt the weight of this self-imposed quarantine, so I imagined that it must be particularly difficult for those in long-term care facilities. In many facilities, including those of my family members, residents were confined to their rooms during outbreaks, with little opportunity for social interaction.
I wanted to do my part to allow these residents to see their families again, so I signed up to become a vaccinator. I had not given vaccinations in about 15 years, as this was typically done by the nurses and medical assistants at the primary care clinics where I have worked. Once I completed training, however, I quickly regained confidence in my abilities to administer vaccinations.
Over the course of 3 months, I visited two to three facilities per week, providing vaccinations to residents and staff along with a stellar team of pharmacists, technicians, and nurses. One of the greatest challenges that I encountered was vaccine hesitancy among the staff of the LTC facilities. Many staff members had heard false rumors in the community about the vaccines. They were understandably hesitant about the speed with which these vaccines received emergency use authorization. They were concerned about potential adverse effects that had not yet been identified. They wanted to see their coworkers and the residents of the facilities vaccinated first so that they could see firsthand that these vaccines are safe.
During these conversations with staff, I found a resource by the DeBeaumont Foundation to be particularly helpful. In this resource, the authors encourage vaccine providers to focus more on the benefits of receiving the vaccine rather than the consequences of not receiving it, the robust amount of research that went into the development of the vaccines, and the vaccine’s role in a return to “normal.” I and other members of my team were able to convince some staff members to accept the vaccine using this technique, but what was even more helpful was when staff members were well-informed about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy and were able to persuade one another. This reinforces the importance of relationship-building in informing health change, which those of us who practice in ambulatory care settings are well aware of.
Last week marked the end of the Long Term Care Facility Vaccination program for our team, and many of us began to ask, “What’s next?” What happens next for us? Many of the pharmacists on my team had taken on this project in addition to our primary jobs. What happens next for the facilities? Many facilities asked us this question, as they would continue to have new admissions who required vaccination, new staff who had not yet been vaccinated, and existing staff who were late adopters and had decided to become vaccinated after seeing deaths in their facilities decrease.
For the pharmacists, many of us will continue to administer vaccinations in community vaccinations clinics throughout the spring and summer.
For the facilities, many began to discuss the logistics of continued vaccination with their long-term-care pharmacy provider. Beginning in mid-March, the federal government entered the maintenance phase of COVID vaccination in long-term-care facilities by providing allocation of vaccine to 3 group purchasing organizations who will then provide the vaccine to the facilities.
The Pharmacy Partnership for Long Term Care Program was a success thanks to many dedicated partners, including pharmacists, technicians, nurses, social workers, facility administrators, and many other health care professionals. Recent CDC data shows that over 7 million COVID vaccinations have been administered in long-term care facilities, and, more importantly, deaths from COVID in long-term care facilities have dropped dramatically since the vaccination program began on December 28th. Health-system pharmacists should be proud of the important role that they have played in this effort!