Seniors, their caregivers, and their loved ones around the country are breathing a collective sigh of relief as COVID-19 vaccines become available. The elderly– and especially those in long-term care facilities– are a priority group for vaccines. Healthcare providers, including nursing home staff, are also at the front of the line, making their jobs – and their patients – safer. However, we all need to understand that while the vaccines are a lifesaver, we should stay vigilant about COVID prevention and continue working hard to keep our loved ones safe.
Are COVID Vaccines Safe?
The two vaccines currently available have been rigorously tested and are safe and effective. However, there’s still misinformation about vaccine safety. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines presently being administered use messenger RNA (mRNA) to fight the virus. mRNA vaccines are new technology but have been studied extensively over the last decade. According to the CDC, mRNA vaccines build immunity by taking advantage of the process that cells use to make proteins. These vaccines do not use a live virus and do not affect the patient’s DNA. The CDC reports that both vaccines can have mild to moderate side effects, including chills, fever, tiredness and headache, especially after the second dose. But interestingly, a December 2020 study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that side effects from the Pfizer vaccine were less common in people 55 and over than in younger patients.
Is One of the Vaccines Best For Elderly Patients?
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are highly effective–around 95 percent–at preventing COVID-19. Both are given in two doses, three to four weeks apart. Because of the structure of supply channels, patients do not get to choose which vaccine they get. It may be tempting to take a “wait and see” approach to vaccination. But for most families, the risks of contracting COVID far outweigh concerns about vaccine safety. In Virginia, the public health community is encouraging seniors 65 and older to sign up for vaccination.
How Are COVID Vaccines Impacting Long-Term Care Facilities?
The CDC and the Virginia Department of Health have designated long-term care residents and healthcare providers as priority groups. Long-term care residents are at high risk of death and serious illness because of age, underlying conditions and the congregate living setting. Under Virginia’s Phase 1A guidelines, long-term care residents have been getting vaccinated since late December, as Virginia’s pharmacy partners vaccinate residents on site. It’s been a significant step in protecting the safety of residents and staff. However, the long-term care community is still following strict COVID protocols as directed by the CDC. Safety measures include:
- Close monitoring of residents for symptoms of COVID.
- Masks for residents when medically feasible.
- Physical distancing.
- Strong emphasis on hand hygiene.
- Personal protective equipment for staff.
- Continued COVID testing when necessary according to CDC guidelines.
How Can My Elderly Loved One Get Vaccinated?
If your loved one lives in Virginia and is 65 or older, they are now eligible to get the vaccine. Local health districts have partnered with pharmacies and healthcare networks to vaccinate as many seniors as possible in the coming weeks. VDH recommends that local districts reserve half of their vaccines for seniors, with the rest going to teachers and other essential workers. Moving forward, the best way for a senior living independently to get on the list for their city or county is through the statewide VDH Vaccinate Virginia program. Online sign-up is most efficient. Computer-savvy family members can help seniors navigate the VDH website and track appointments.
A Light At The End of The Tunnel
In Virginia and around the nation, many of us see the light at the end of a dark tunnel. At Evergreen Health and Rehab, keeping residents safe while providing warm and compassionate care remains our priority. We are grateful for vaccines and the pharmacy partners who have made it possible to immunize residents. But we’re not letting our guard down. We continue to adhere to strict safety protocols and emphasize communication with residents and family members as we work to get through this together.