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Will Older Adults Be First to Get the Vaccine?
COVID-19
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Will Older Adults Be First to Get the Vaccine?

As the covid-19 vaccine becomes ready for distribution, many older adults are wondering: will they be first in line? 

Over the past several months, the data has been clear: the coronavirus is by far the most lethal for those above the age of 65. Those in long-term care facilities have been particularly vulnerable. Indeed, 39 percent of all virus fatalities have happened in such facilities, according to the CDC committee in charge of advising the vaccine’s distribution. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the committee finally announced its guidelines. Sure enough, alongside healthcare workers, those in nursing homes and other kinds of long-term care will be at the top of the list.

Pfizer and Moderna estimate that they will have enough doses of the vaccine to cover 22.5 million Americans by the end of the year. That’s more than enough for the three million residents and employees in long-term care facilities. It will get tricky when it comes to covering the rest of the country’s 21 million healthcare workers; there will not be quite enough doses to cover all of them, and states will have to decide on their own which workers to prioritize.

Some older adults may be wondering: can they move to a long-term care facility in order to get quicker access to the vaccine? Especially for those who may have been considering making such a move anyway, now may suddenly sound like the perfect time. As far as covid risk goes, these facilities might go from being among the most dangerous to among the least, and any older adults who held off on relocating for the last six months for fear of these facilities’ many lethal cases may suddenly reconsider.

Whether they can now pull off a move will depend on the particular facility as well as the potential resident’s insurance and budget. In general, however, it is unlikely that long-term care facilities will be able to accommodate such moves on any kind of short notice—especially if they see a spike in demand in light of today’s announcement. On the whole, long-term care facilities are struggling: even before covid, the industry was facing problems related to Medicaid’s limited funding, and the pandemic has only exposed these challenges more starkly.  

For many older adults, this decision will also depend on how quickly other groups besides those in long-term care will eventually have access to the vaccine, as well as who these groups will be. Adults over 65 who are not in long-term care, essential workers, and those with underlying health problems such as obesity, diabetes and asthma will all be candidates for the next round in the beginning of 2021. But apportioning the next available doses among these large groups will be a challenge, especially if Pfizer and Moderna are slow to produce the next batch. Many older adults will likely have to wait several months before they can get their vaccine.

The good news is that it likely won’t be longer than a year; the World Health Organization recently predicted that healthy young adults may not be able to get vaccinated until 2022, suggesting that it will be some time in the course of 2021 that most older adults get access.

This timeline also may depend upon the state; states are not mandated to follow any of the CDC’s guidelines and it remains to be seen whether some will choose to deviate in certain ways. For example, there is some debate over whether the goal with distribution should be to prevent deaths or to slow transmission. If slowing transmission becomes a higher priority for some states, it is possible that essential workers and others who need to come in contact with large numbers of people to do their job might rise in priority. 

Have you or anyone you know considered moving into a nursing home or other long-term care facility because of their access to the vaccine? Let us know in the comments below.

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