CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Residents and staff of long-term care facilities are one of the most vulnerable populations for severe disease and death from Covid-19. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, about 68 percent of all COVID-related deaths have occurred in people over 70, and more than 2,000 deaths have occurred among residents of long-term care facilities alone.
Yet many long-term care residents and staff are still waiting to be vaccinated in Tennessee. Meanwhile, our neighbors up north in West Virginia have already completed first dose vaccinations in nursing homes, and are moving on to round two.
Last week, Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said more than 90% of the state's long-term care facilities are to receive vaccines from CVS and Walgreens, through the federal pharmacy partnership.
A local pharmacy told us Wednesday that it's been ready to help supplement this vaccination process, but is sidelined from the action waiting for its vaccine supply.
"To be honest with you, it's frustrating," said pharmacist Jake Standefer, at Chattanooga's Access Pharmacy.
Access Pharmacy is one of several local, independent businesses eager to help vaccinate the elderly in assisted living facilities, but held back by vaccine supply.
I've had families call me that say 'heymy mom is at a nursing home, she really needs this shot, she's 85 years old, she's got a ton of underlying conditions.' And I have to tell themI'm going to get her that shot as soon as I can. But we just don't have them yet.
Access Pharmacy has been identified by the state as a phase 1a1 vaccine provider.
"We're set up and ready to go vaccinate" said Jake Standefer. "It's just that we haven't gotten much communication from the TN Department of Health, or the state really, about when we will be receiving these vaccines."
Melanie Adair, the president of Chattanooga's Summit View--a senior living facility still waiting on vaccines--told us she's not as concerned about the current vaccine timeline. Given the fact that this is a fluid situation, the state has been very responsive, Adair said. She claimed the bigger problem is that states haven't been given federal direction about when they're getting more vaccine supply.
Thus far, CVS and Walgreens have been the main pharmacies spearheading the long-term care vaccination effort throughout the state, and most of the country. In Tennessee, CVS has completed its first dose vaccinations at about three quarters of the skilled nursing homes it was assigned, as of Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, vaccinations in Tennessee's assisted living facilities just started on Wednesday. On its first day of giving those vaccines, CVS completed first dose vaccinations at 6 of the more than 300 facilities it was partnered with.
But Jake Standefer told us local pharmacies have one big advantage over big, commercial chains like CVS and Walgreens.
We know these residents. We take care of them. We supply their medicine...we come and do yearly flu clinics for them...It’s nothing for us to be able to take the Covid vaccine and get them out to these facilities that need them most.
One nearby state has seized on this advantage.
"We did not feel that immediately activating the federal plan was in West Virginia's best interest," said Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia's appointed Covid-19 czar.
Instead, West Virginia decided to start relying on independent pharmacies to distribute vaccines to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and it's worked remarkably well for the state.
We were able to get the first doses in the arms of all nursing home residents and staff who chose to get vaccinated before the New Year broke. And we believe that we'll have the second dose in everybody before February 1.
We asked Dr. Marsh about his advice to other states working out vaccination plans for long-term care facilities.
"[Work] the plan so that you're really individualizing it for your own state," he said.
We also asked Standefer at Access Pharmacy about what Tennessee could learn from West Virginia’s example.
"I think [Tennessee] needs to follow suit," he said. "[West Virginia] has it figured out. They’ve got a program that works. It’s not too late to change."
Back at Access Pharmacy, Standefer added...
We’re here, we’re readywe just need to get the vaccines, and we’ll take care of the rest.
Standefer told us he just received his list of facilities to vaccinate from the state late Wednesday afternoon, but still doesn't know when the actual vaccine will be arriving to the pharmacy.