New York is close to reaching a vital early goal of its coronavirus vaccine campaign: getting a first dose to every nursing home resident, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday. But the effort to protect those residents has unfolded more slowly than some administrators and relatives hoped.
Some 96 percent of the state’s nursing home residents have received at least an initial dose, and vaccination teams are due to reach the rest by Sunday, said Cuomo, a Democrat.
The federally run program to vaccinate nursing home residents and staff launched Dec. 21. As recently as Jan. 4, only 288 of the 611 facilities that signed up for the federal program had seen residents get their first visit from vaccination teams sent by private pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens.
Jeannie Wells hoped her 92-year-old mother would get the shot quickly at her facility in Rochester, and they would have a path toward seeing each other in person again for the first time since November.
Instead, it was Thursday by the time pharmacists made their first visit to the home, said Wells, a nurse and a member of a local advocacy group called the Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice. It will be weeks before her mother gets her second dose of the vaccine, and weeks more before its protection fully kicks in.
“I would think that they should have been able to hit the ground running,” she said, adding that it was painful to lose precious time for potentially visiting her mother, whose memory is fading.
“There is no way for anyone to understand that when you’re losing a parent mentally to begin with, to lose that — to have those days taken away — there’s no way you can ever make up for that,” she said.
Stephen Hanse, president of statewide associations of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, said some New York nursing homes initially struggled to get a first shot scheduled with a partner pharmacy.
The state’s nursing homes have reported 1,300 COVID-19 deaths since the end of November.
Meanwhile, many assisted living homes, which tend to elders who require only a low level of medical care, are still waiting for their first vaccine clinic. The Empire State Association of Assisted Living said 21 out of 176 assisted living homes it surveyed recently said their first vaccine clinic wasn’t scheduled until February or March.
New York had initially intended to set aside its vaccine supply nearly exclusively for health care workers and long-term care residents, but has since expanded eligibility to more than 7 million state residents, including anyone age 65 or older.
This week saw a mad scramble of people trying to get a limited number of appointments, and a rising tide of complaints of confusion about how to best get in line for the shots.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned again Friday that the city’s ability to schedule new vaccination appointments would likely be exhausted by next week, if supplies don’t increase.
State officials said 55,000 appointments available at the state’s newly opened vaccination center on Long Island’s Jones Beach were fully booked within two days.
“What you can’t get past, mathematically, is 7 million people chasing 300,000 doses. That is the mathematical problem you can’t solve,” Cuomo said.
Meanwhile, concerns remain about nursing home staff members who have declined to take the vaccine.
At Gurwin Jewish Nursing Home on Long Island, for instance, 88% of the roughly 350 residents had gotten at least the first shot as of Friday, the facility said.
But the 760 staffers have been far more reluctant: About 36% have gotten at least one shot, though that’s up from 20% when the vaccine was first offered last month.
“It’s a challenge,” CEO Stuart B. Almer said. “People are hesitant, and we understand the hesitancy. This has come very fast.”
To try to turn the tide, Gurwin’s lobby screens are playing videos of staffers talking about their own experiences and reasons for getting vaccinated. Almer jumped on the public-address system the other day to encourage it and emphasize that he felt fine after his own shot.
The New Jewish Home in Manhattan, meanwhile, has held staff town hall meetings and encouraged workers to talk with medical staff about any concerns.
“We were telling them, ‘This is a gift, and we have to see it as a gift, that we’re able to get this, when we’ve seen what we’ve seen on the frontline ... what this virus can do,’” administrator Sandra Mundy said.
Nurse Delores Newton was among the staff at the home who passed up an initial opportunity to take the vaccine, but ultimately took it when it was offered again Monday.
“I’m all for vaccinations,” says Newton, 49, who said she gets a flu shot every year. “I’m just leery about anything that’s new.”
She said seeing residents and co-workers get the shots without any major reactions were among the things that gave her more confidence, along with encouragement from her sister and a conversation with the home’s medical director.
“Everything, combined, and reading up on the vaccine a little bit, that’s what changed my mind,” Newton said.
The union that represents many New York nursing home staffers, 1199SEIU, is encouraging members to get inoculated, saying in a December statement that it understands some people’s apprehensions, but “after what we have seen over the last nine months, the risks of doing nothing are more dangerous.”