PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – While nursing home residents are supposed to be among the first to receive the coronavirus vaccine, the group will not see any inoculations until after Christmas – at the earliest.
The R.I. COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee on Monday approved a recommendation to start vaccinating high-risk hospital workers, but officials confirmed that nursing home residents wouldn’t start getting inoculated until the week of Dec. 28.
R.I. Center for Emergency Preparedness and Response chief Alysia Mihalakos said Monday the state had hoped to start that process by Christmas, but it no longer appears to be “operationally feasible.”
The delay differs from initial guidance set by the federal government stipulating frontline workers and long-term care facilities would be first in line, as the latter industry has been hit hardest and most tragically by the pandemic.
In Rhode Island, more than 1,000 people in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have died after contracting the virus, accounting for upward of 70% of the state’s total death toll.
Nationwide, the country is seeing about 50,000 new infections in nursing homes per week, and about 20% of people who are infected there will die, according to former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.
“It’s a very costly delay,” Gottlieb said during an interview Sunday on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”
The federal government is partnering with CVS Health and Walgreens to administer vaccines in nursing homes, but the process has been delayed in part because not all consent forms from nursing homes and family members have been received, according to Gottlieb.
It’s “not an easy task, but probably something that should have been done in advance,” he said.
Rhode Island Health Care Association President and CEO Scott Fraser, whose trade organization represents nursing homes across the state, said he’s also been informed that CVS and Walgreens cannot start the program until they have at least 50% of the vaccine needed on hand. A portion of the next round of doses delivered to the state will be allocated toward the nursing homes program, according to Mihalakos.
“Hospitals are getting the shots a bit earlier because they are getting a direct allocation and not going through either of the pharmacies,” Fraser told 12 News.
Also speaking on “Face The Nation,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the issue had been “all straightened out,” and vaccinations in nursing homes could “start really any day.”
“We could have every nursing home resident vaccinated by Christmas,” he said.
But documents obtained by CBS News show the administration specifically instructed the partnering organizations to wait until at least Dec. 21. It will be even a week later in Rhode Island.
Despite the delay, Fraser said he’s nonetheless pleased that the state has voted in favor of prioritizing nursing home residents when it comes to the vaccine rollout. And he lauded CVS and Walgreens, saying it’ll be far easier logistically for residents to have pharmacies come into the facilities to do the inoculations.
“While every day counts, we are very pleased to still be at the front of the line,” he said. “State officials promised our staff and residents would have priority and that still appears to be the case.”