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Health Team

Long-term care residents who need most care will be first with option to get COVID vaccine

Posted December 7, 2020 6:01 p.m. EST
Updated December 7, 2020 7:49 p.m. EST

Staff and residents of long-term care facilities across North Carolina have been waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine for months, and it's finally in arms reach. Those two groups will be among the first in the state to be vaccinated once a vaccine is approved.

Better protection from the novel coronavirus would bring big change to facilities essentially locked down since March.

"We do hope that this means visitation can be done more easily and without as many restrictions, that there will be less of an outbreak which will then help, of course, residents' physical health and well-being," said Lauren Zingraff, executive director for Friends Of Residents, a group that advocates for those in long-term care.

Zingraff expects some in North Carolina will start to get their shots as little as two weeks after a vaccine is approved by the FDA for emergency use.

"It's expected to take approximately 14 days to get it shipped to the state and distributed to the state, and we are a large state with 100 counties," Zingraff said.

The FDA is scheduled to review the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday and one from Moderna the next week.

There are about 90,000 residents in long-term care across the state. The 36,000 in skilled nursing homes, those who get round-the clock care, would be the first group to get the vaccine.

Next would be the 39,000 residents of assisted living communities, followed by 15,000 in what's called "continuing care," retirement communities where residents can progress from independent living to assisted living to nursing home care.

Distribution for staff members is expected to follow the same pattern.

"Our state Department of Health and Human Services, along with the industry, are definitely already putting in the strategic plan for how the vaccines will be stored safely and at that proper temperature as well so it is effective," Zingraff said.

At the outset, it will be up to individual residents and staff whether to get the vaccine. Zingraff says the biggest challenge creating vaccine resistance is misinformation.

"The amount of fear that is already out here for all of us – and the vaccine it hasn’t even come out yet. We are still fighting this information when it comes to wearing masks. We’re still fighting misinformation about who can get COVID, how severe it is, things like that," she said.

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