‘Now is the time’ for COVID-19 vaccinations, boosters, senior living and care experts say – McKnight’s Senior Living

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With the omicron COVID-19 variant at 73% of coronavirus cases and rising, the country is within three weeks of a surge that potentially could overwhelm the healthcare system. That’s why “now is the time” to get vaccinated — or get a booster shot — against the virus, to enter the winter with maximum protection, public health and long-term care experts said Tuesday.

The long-term care industry has a goal of vaccinating — or providing booster shots — to all eligible residents and staff members by the end of 2021, said American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living Chief Medical Officer David Gifford, M.D., MPH. Gifford moderated a virtual town hall on Tuesday co-hosted by LeadingAge and the AARP, to answer questions about the virus and vaccines for those who work or live in long-term care facilities.

Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Admiral Rachel Levine, M.D., recommended layering protection through vaccination, booster shots and masking to help contain the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.

“We never imagined the pandemic would last this long,” Levine said, adding that the aging services industry’s response to the pandemic has come at “great personal sacrifice.”

“But there is hope,” she said. “Unlike 2020, last winter, we have the power to protect ourselves.”

Fully vaccinated and boosted individuals have a 10-times lower rate of getting COVID-19, which shows that existing vaccines work against omicron, Levine said. The country is averaging more than 1 million booster shots per day, she said, but cases are doubling every two to three days as omicron spreads across the country. 

Natural immunity is not enough to protect individuals against omicron, Levine added.

“Boosters offer people optimal protection against this new variant,” she said. “Don’t wait.”

Rogerson Communities President and CEO Walter Ramos, J.D., said that the education the nonprofit Boston-based senior living organization provided in 2020 helped it achieve a 90% vaccination rate in its communities. The organization is closing in on a 90% booster rate as well, he added.

Bringing in experts who “looked like the people who live and work in the facilities we manage and own,” as well as those who speak multiple languages and understand the culture of each community, was important in building confidence and trust in the vaccines and boosters, Ramos said.

“We take the time to meet people where they are,” he said. “I cannot overemphasize how important this is for them to have a comfort level to receive the boosters.”

Rogerson worked with local pharmacies and providers to either provide on-site vaccination clinics or access to vaccines off site to mobile residents and staff members, Ramos said.

Levine said she supports an effort to get booster shots into the arms of all eligible individuals by the end of this year, to provide maximum protection going into the winter ahead. She referenced President Biden’s address Tuesday afternoon about the White House’s efforts to step up its fight against COVID-19, including increasing access to free testing, expanding hospital capacity and working to get more shots in arms. 

“Now is the time,” Levine said. “We cannot let up, because COVID-19 isn’t letting up.

“Staying ahead of the virus and protecting communities from COVID-19 with safe and effective vaccines and boosters is critical, especially in the context of the changing virus and the new omicron variant,” she added.