CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on a series of recommendations Friday from a panel of advisers, paving the way for nursing homes and assisted living facilities to begin providing additional doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to residents.
Shots can be administered six months after the initial Pfizer vaccine series was completed, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Because long-term care facilities were among the first to begin COVID-19 vaccinations last December, many residents are already eligible for the booster shot.
Brookdale Senior Living said it will add the booster shots to its annual flu shot clinics. Clinics are planned for the next few weeks.
Kim Elliott, RN, Chief Nursing Officer of Brookdale, said the company is "working around the clock" to get its vaccination clinics up and running within a week.
"I'm happy to hear that the FDA has approved vaccine booster shots for individuals who are 65 and older, in addition to those at severe risk of disease. Booster shots are a new tool we can use to fight against COVID-19 and the Delta variant," Elliott said.
To educate residents about the booster shot, Brookdale took a similar approach to its original COVID-19 vaccine messaging. Teams put together video series and other informational materials and had the clinical teams at each site lead conversations on the booster shot, the company said.
"At Brookdale, our vaccine efforts started well before the first vaccine was even available, and we're continuing to build on those efforts with the introduction of the booster shot. Our resilient Brookdale teams across the country will soon be hosting booster clinics to help keep our communities as protected as possible," Brookdale CEO and President Cindy Baier said.
As of Sept. 12, there were 691,379 confirmed COVID-19 cases among nursing home residents and 135,862 deaths, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.
Bri Morris, senior director of program development for the National Community Pharmacists Association, said the organization has been working with community pharmacies to make sure they have plans in place for the booster clinics and are connected with long-term care facilities. Even long-term care sites that only are prepared to give a few booster shots should still reach out to local pharmacies to try to set up clinics, Morris said.
"In the very early days, there was lots of concern about the supply, and we didn't want to waste a dose. That mindset has changed as we've moved through this pandemic," Morris said this week during a call with LeadingAge members.
She also said facilities should be able to add booster shots to their existing flu clinics.
The Biden administration in August recommended booster shots for immunocompromised individuals, including those with cancer or who have received an organ transplant. Long-term care providers like SavaSeniorCare have already started administering booster shots to immunocompromised residents and staff.
And nursing homes have been working to fully vaccinate staff, after the federal government said it would tie facilities' Medicare and Medicaid funding to staff vaccinations.
Tausha Moore, director of public relations for ProMedica, said the company has a community clinic at one of its hospitals that will administer the Pfizer booster shot to qualified individuals and has dozens of primary care and pediatric physician practices registered to administer COVID-19 vaccines who also will be providing the booster shot.
The CDC panel on Thursday voted against saying that people can get a booster if they are ages 18 to 64 years and are healthcare workers or have another job that puts them at increased risk of being exposed to the virus.
But Walensky disagreed and put that recommendation back in, noting that such a move aligns with an FDA booster authorization decision earlier this week. The category she included covers people who live in institutional settings that increase their risk of exposure, such as prisons or homeless shelters, as well as healthcare workers.
Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, which represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities, said nearly all nursing homes and some assisted care facilities have access to COVID-19 vaccines through a long-term care pharmacy.
"We anticipate the booster shot process will be fairly straightforward and the vaccines will be available quickly for these providers," Gifford said.
Assisted living and senior living communities that don't have relationships with long-term care pharmacies can work with the federal government to connect with a pharmacy or vaccine provider, and the AHCA/NCAL can call on states to help coordinate distribution and administration of the booster shots, Gifford said.
"Long term care facilities are diverse, so a one-size-fits-all approach will not work for a booster shot rollout. We must consider things like the size and location of the facility, the acuity of the residents, the number of new admissions and more. AHCA/NCAL continues to engage with public health officials to help advise and streamline the process for administering booster shots considering these factors," Gifford said.