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Massive COVID-19 Vaccination Effort Begins at California Nursing Homes

Residents of a long-term care facility in Connecticut receive COVID-19 vaccinations on December 18th.
Courtesy: CVS Health
Residents of a long-term care facility in Connecticut receive COVID-19 vaccinations on December 18th.

Monday marked the beginning of the end of the tumult and sorrow that has plagued California’s homes for the elderly over the past nine months, nursing home advocates say.

Pharmacists and other health professionals have begun vaccinating elderly residents and their caretakers at roughly 850 nursing homes across the state, according to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office.

“The vaccination just really represents hope and joy for this particular population that has suffered so much,” said Deborah Pacyna, director of public affairs for the California Association of Health Facilities. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for the past nine months.”

Nursing home residents and staff members at facilities in Fresno, Southern California and the Bay Area will be some of the first in line for the immunization, Pacyna said.

CVS Health and Walgreens are partnering with the federal government to administer the shots. Eleanor Wong, district lead for CVS Health’s in the San Francisco Bay Area, says the company expects to help inoculate nearly 700,000 people over the next 12 weeks.

“We are so ready just to be out there and end this pandemic,” Wong said. “I think we all are.”

Pacyna says the pandemic has been a “roller coaster ride” for the facilities, which had outbreaks all over the state, and staff members were struggling to keep up with changing safety guidelines. Roughly 5,000 nursing home residents in California have died because of COVID-19 this year.

Pacyna says the shots will help bring the facilities back to normal, where elderly residents have been isolated from family members for nearly a year. Visitations have not been allowed during the pandemic.

Newsom said the pharmacy chains will be administering the newly-authorized Pfizer vaccine at no cost to the state or local governments.

“Vaccinating those most vulnerable among us is critical to fighting this virus,” the governor said in a statement Monday.

Dr. Erica Pan, California’s interim public health director, said the national partnership with the large pharmacy chains enables local groups “to continue to vaccinate other high priority individuals such as our front-line health care workers who are critical to our ongoing response to a surge of cases.”

When the vaccinations are available to the wider public, Wong says CVS Health plans to give up to 25 million shots per month, and that the company has “staffed up” in order to be able to meet those goals. She says 30,000 pharmacists and 60,000 pharmacy technicians will be available to help with the massive public health campaign.

People interested in getting shots at CVS stores will need to set up appointments in advance, Wong said, but there are no set dates for that immunization effort yet.

Copyright 2020 CapRadio

Pauline Bartolone