A vaccination campaign in Illinois long-term care facilities, home to tens of thousands of people particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, is hitting snags even before it starts.
Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike on Wednesday afternoon said the nursing-home vaccinations will not begin until Dec. 28. That’s a week later than planned and two weeks after vaccination of health-care workers began in some U.S. locations. Ezike offered no promise that the date would hold up in light of an announced halving of expected Illinois shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
“With these decreased allocations, it might slow the process with the skilled nursing facilities but … we have to wait for more information to see where that lands,” Ezike said.
The facilities now face a hurdle of getting written consent for vaccination of each resident, some of whom are incapable of making medical decisions on their own.
There is no federal requirement for informed consent relating to vaccination, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends that residents or their representatives receive a fact sheet about the vaccine and then consent to receiving it.
A statement Wednesday from CVS Health, one of the pharmacy chains contracted by the federal government to carry out the vaccinations in nursing homes, says hard-copy forms are necessary because “the consent agreement is just one part of … comprehensive intake paperwork that needs to be completed, including residents’ insurance information and a clinical questionnaire about their health condition and any symptoms they may be experiencing.”
“We are working with facilities to help ensure that sufficient time is given to return the paperwork before a scheduled vaccination clinic,” the statement reads.
A CVS spokesman on Wednesday wrote that roughly 1,000 long-term care facilitates in Illinois have selected his company for the vaccinations. He said the residents and staff members of these facilities total about 100,000 Illinoisans.
When the nursing home vaccinations finally begin, CVS is planning three stops at each facility — three weeks apart when using the Pfizer vaccine, four weeks apart when using one from Moderna that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will on Friday consider for emergency use authorization. The first visit is for the initial shot, the second for the booster, and the third for a booster to anyone who still needs it.
The CVS statement expressed confidence the company will “efficiently and methodically transport vaccines to long-term care facilities and get them in the arms of seniors.”
The other pharmacy chain carrying out most of the Illinois nursing-home vaccinations, Deerfield-based Walgreens, did not answer WBEZ questions on Wednesday.
Los Angeles County decided last week to pull its nursing homes out of the federal program that contracted with CVS and Walgreens to deliver the vaccines. The decision means hundreds of facilities will receive vaccine doses directly — in hopes of quicker inoculation.
Yet other obstacles to the vaccine’s rollout in Illinois nursing homes could come from the facilities’ staff members.
They have expressed reactions ranging from “enthusiasm to deep concern” about the vaccination campaign, according to a written statement from Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare, a union that represents about 12,000 nursing assistants and other workers in Illinois long-term care facilities.
“Many of our members are Black,” Kelley said. “As Black frontline workers, they are experiencing a disproportionate share of the impact of this pandemic and, at the same time, there’s an awareness of a history in which Black people have been mistreated by the medical establishment in this country.”
He pointed to a decades-long federally funded study of untreated syphilis among Black males at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
“Even today, going to the doctor while Black means you’re less likely to have your pain and symptoms taken seriously,” Kelley said.
An SEIU spokeswoman said the union is surveying its members to gather concerns, including paid time off for workers who suffer serious side effects.
Nursing-home vaccinations are crucial for the state’s battle against the virus. The Illinois Department of Public Health recorded 427 new coronavirus fatalities among nursing home residents during the week ending Dec. 11. Those brought the number of long-term care residents killed throughout the pandemic to at least 6,954, which amounted to 49.5% of the state’s total reported COVID-19 deaths, according to a WBEZ analysis of IDPH data.