Advocates seek to prioritize at-home vaccines for homebound seniors

Ridofranz/iStockBy LAURA ROMERO and DR. JAY BHATT, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — As mass inoculation against COVID-19 is underway across the country, advocates for the elderly are pushing to prioritize at-home vaccinations in order to protect the health of older, homebound adults.

“Those who are homebound are just as high-risk for hospitalization and death as any other older adult,” said Dr. Steven Landers, the CEO of Visiting Nurse Association Health Group, a New Jersey-based independent provider of home health, hospice and community-based care. “They are visited by families, by health care professionals. They deserve to be protected.”

In a letter sent Tuesday to the White House COVID-19 Response Team, a group of advocates including officials with the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), which represents more than 14,000 long-term care facilities, urged the Biden administration to prioritize vulnerable individuals, including the homebound.

“No provisions have been made to get them vaccinated,” the letter said. “We must not lose focus on the most vulnerable elders.”

But Paul Downey, the CEO of Serving Seniors, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping seniors in poverty, told ABC News that “simply prioritizing seniors for vaccinations is not enough.”

“Proactively facilitating distribution to homebound, rural, and diverse senior populations is vital,” Downey said. “We have been advocating for months for those among our most vulnerable populations to be a top priority to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, especially homebound, low-income, and homeless seniors.”

“They’ve begged us for help to get the vaccine,” he said.

Older adults who are homebound may have been eligible to get vaccinated for months. But many health departments are struggling to figure out how to roll out an efficient vaccination program for people who cannot leave their homes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the proper storage of vaccines to ensure safe and effective vaccination is one of the many challenges that comes with inoculating people who are homebound.

Courtney Armbruster, a spokesperson for Nascentia Health in Syracuse, New York, told ABC News that because vaccine vials contain multiple doses, all of the doses must be drawn and administered within several hours. The challenge, she said, is arranging vaccinations within a narrow geographic area to ensure that every dose is used.

But Armbruster added that because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires standard refrigeration, as opposed to the freezing required by the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, there is hope that it will make at-home vaccinations easier to do.

Medical personnel operating an at-home vaccination program in Illinois have found that the vaccination process takes so long that they’re limited to vaccinating only two people in each house they visit, said nurse practitioner Roshani Patel, who oversees the program.

“We have a timeline of six hours,” Patel said. “The drive and time to complete paperwork, as well as monitoring time, makes things difficult.”

Jane Aggen, 76, a resident of the Chicago suburb of South Holland in Cook County, received her vaccine after more than a month of pressuring the county to send someone to her home to vaccinate her. Her husband John, a retired Cook County sheriff, struggled to help his wife get the vaccine after she suffered a broken hip.

“I was stuck here and left behind,” Aggen said. “I was beginning to lose hope … I was afraid I was being overlooked.”

There are about two million homebound older adults and disabled people who need to get vaccinated, according to Terry Fulmer, the president of the John A. Hartford Foundation, a nonprofit that works to improve care for older adults.

“These are grandparents and parents who deserve to hug their family too,” Fulmer said.

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