Residents of long-term care facilities are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. In Hawaii, those facilities are preparing to distribute the first doses of vaccines.
Distribution could start as soon as next week.
The Hawaii Kai Retirement Community is the largest assisted living facility in the state with 280 residents and 160 employees.
The community partnered with CVS to provide the vaccine to its residents. It’s part of a federal pharmacy partnership program where pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens manage the vaccine distribution at no cost to long-term care facilities.
“We understand that it's looking like the state of Hawaii has chosen the Moderna vaccine for our program, so it most likely will begin the week of the 28th,” said Hawaii Kai Retirement Community manager Adam Dolak.
Along with healthcare workers, seniors in long-term care facilities are being prioritized, explained Patrick Harrison who works with the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, the group that represents hospitals
“This is a highly vulnerable resident population,” he said.
“There's a need to quickly and effectively vaccinate populations nationwide. About 6% of all COVID cases occurred in long-term care facilities across the nation. But it accounted for 40% of our deaths.”
Dolak says over the last couple of weeks, he’s been educating residents about the vaccine.
However, it’s been difficult to get people to talk about it.
“I feel like people are very careful about vocalizing because it almost has become a politicized issue in some ways,” he said. “So people seem to be very cautious about voicing their opinions in a group setting.”
For those Dolak has spoken to one-on-one, he says the majority have been excited about the vaccine.
“We have a professor emeritus of immunology from the University of Illinois, who is a resident here . . . and has really done a wonderful job of informing people of the facts and the science behind both the vaccine and the virus,” he said.
“And so you run the gamut from people who, like him are truly excited. To residents, or sometimes their family members who will say, ‘don't even talk about it.’ They believe it's a hoax.”
Dolak hopes residents will feel more comfortable as they see their friends and peers get the vaccine.
The Moderna vaccine requires two doses 28 days apart, while the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses 21 days apart.
The state decided long-term care facilities will be receiving the Moderna vaccine because of the less strict storage requirements.
The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at negative 95 degrees fahrenheit while the Moderna vaccine only needs to be kept between negative 13 degrees and five degrees fahrenheit.
Dolak says residents and workers will not be required to take the vaccine.
Harrison explained that even if a facility wanted to make it mandatory, it would be impossible.
“Under the emergency use authorization factsheet from the US Food and Drug Administration or the FDA is very clearly indicated that it is your choice to receive or not receive the vaccine,” he said.
“And that applies to both the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines.”
Harrison explained that even if the COVID-19 vaccine received full FDA approval, it is not likely that residents would be required to take it. Although it’s possible that staff would be.
Dolak made it a priority to talk about the vaccine not only to residents, but to families and those with powers of attorney
They’re important because some residents are not able to make medical decisions for themselves due to illnesses like dementia or Alzheimers.
Even residents who can make decisions for themselves often rely heavily on their family to help make those choices.
“We also remind them that they are part of a community that is high risk,” Dolak said.
“Their choices do affect, 270 or if you think of combined with all of the employees potentially, 400, 500 people, their decisions affect because they are in this isolated kind of tight knit unit.”
Harrison estimated that all of those who want a vaccine in a long-term care facility would be able to get one by March.
As for Dolak who lives in the retirement community himself, he said he and his finance will be taking the vaccine when it is their turn."