“We are grateful that the federal government has made COVID-19 booster injections available to our vulnerable residents, which … will further help protect our residents from groundbreaking COVID-19 infections,” said Tara Gregorio, President of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, which represents nearly 400 senior care facilities.
There are approximately 38,000 nursing home residents in Massachusetts. The latest state data shows 300 COVID infections in facilities over two weeks as of mid-September, including 116 among residents and 184 among staff. Most were groundbreaking cases in people who had previously been vaccinated, the state said.
The state health department declined to comment further on Thursday on its plan for recall clinics in nursing homes.
The ministry’s directive on booster shots comes as long-term care facilities face historic staff shortages. Some administrators say vaccinations, while welcome for thousands of vulnerable nursing home residents, will be a difficult process for staff tired by the already stretched pandemic.
“Nursing directors are exhausted,” said Dr Asif Merchant, medical director of four nursing homes in the Western Metropolitan area and partner of a company that manages medical services for 45 nursing homes. in Massachusetts.
The Food and Drug Administration cleared the recall on Wednesday Pfizer vaccine injections for people 65 years of age and older who received their second injection at least six months earlier.
The FDA has also cleared Pfizer booster shots for adults at high risk for complications from COVID due to frequent exposure to the coronavirus at work, such as nursing home workers.
On Thursday, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group recommended the additional doses for people 65 and older, nursing home residents, and people 50 to 64 with underlying health conditions. He also said that boosters may be offered to people between the ages of 18 and 49 with underlying illnesses.
Nursing homes received significant assistance earlier this year from the federal government, which sent teams of pharmacists to facilities to administer the first and second rounds of COVID vaccines.
But this time that federal cavalry is not coming, and the administrators of the Massachusetts nursing homes are led by the state health department to solve it themselves, with the help of the pharmacies they use. usually for other drugs. The ministry said in its phone briefing on Thursday that he would help establishments that need help and said more guidelines would come shortly.
CVS, one of two national pharmaceutical companies used in the federal nursing home COVID vaccination program earlier this year, said in a statement that it was “fully prepared to play a leading role in providing booster shots this fall “. But he warned that nursing homes may have to compete for help from their local pharmacies, as millions of adults who are not in nursing homes will also seek to be vaccinated.
“Due to the expected demand for recalls in our pharmacies, the availability of on-site vaccination clinics at facilities will be determined by local resources, âsaid Mike DeAngelis, CVS spokesperson.
But the resources of retirement homes are also slim. There are about 6,000, or 1 in 5, nursing and direct care positions unfilled in Massachusetts nursing homes, according to Mass Senior Care.
Dr. Larissa Lucas, who is the medical director of six nursing homes through the North Shore Physicians Group, is optimistic that her facilities‘ will be able to manage callback clinics despite severe staff shortages.
âEvery year we roll out flu shots to all of our residents without a problem,â she said. âBut it’s a lot of administrative work to get consent forms signed. “
As nursing homes juggle booster vaccination plans, as well as upcoming flu vaccination clinics, they are also working to meet the October 10 deadline for all their staff to be vaccinated with at least their own. first series of vaccines, under penalty of penalties and dismissals. .
The reluctance of workers to vaccinate has been an urgent problem for the establishments. Some administrators said the state’s immunization mandate for nursing home workers could drive reluctant staff away. Still, the warrant seems to have helped push quite a few people; the latest federal data shows Massachusetts nursing homes have some of the highest staff vaccination rates nationally, with 83 percent of workers fully vaccinated.
Gregorio, of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, said the group predicts that about 3% of the state’s total staff will refuse to be vaccinated or have a valid medical or religious exemption.
Gregorio said in a statement that the group is working to educate and persuade workers to get vaccinated.
âAs nursing homes face the worst workforce crisis in historyâ¦â she said, âwe cannot afford to lose a single staff member. “