Tri-State pharmacies including many area Walgreens and CVS locations are preparing to vaccinate some of Ohio’s most vulnerable people by the end of the week. While that might seem like a major milestone against COVID-19, it could be months before it’s safe to let visitors back inside nursing homes.
“We’re very grateful – very excited to be moving forward with this,” Ohio Health Care Association executive director Pete Van Runkle said.
After months of loss at nursing homes across the state, this week saw some good news from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.
“We look at the people in nursing homes,” he said. “We know over half the people who've died have come out of nursing homes. We know that we need to get that group protected just as quickly as we can.”
Van Runkle said it was not immediately clear if nursing homes would be included in the initial phase of vaccinations, but he added that elderly patients were made a priority at the federal level and with the governor.
“We've got hundreds and hundreds of nursing homes, so it's going to take a while,” DeWine said.
Moving forward, 88,000 of the initial 98,000 vaccines available will go to workers and residents, but -- as with the rest of the population -- people must be willing to receive the vaccine.
“Our members have been reporting that a lot, that ‘Hey, I got a large number who are hesitant at best,'" Van Runkle said.
He said he’s hopeful that opinions will shift over time.
“We're working through those things and trying to get as many people vaccinated as we can,” Van Runkle said.
Pharmacies, which have the capability to store the vaccine at the required temperature, will administer the shots on-site and will be responsible for making sure everyone gets the second dose, as well.
Van Runkle said outside factors play a major role in the road back to normal for those in nursing homes and their family members.
“We may get to the point where the numbers are looking good enough that we can start opening up visitation,” he said. “It's really all driven by those numbers.”
With no time frame in place, Van Runkle said that may not be the case until summer, but he is urging loved ones to hold on to hope.
“At least this way we have some sense that there is an end to this,” he said. “We can get back to not using all the PPE, allowing more visitation, not having to be tested or maybe, eventually, not at all.”
Van Runkle said there will be an observation period for each nursing home resident and worker after the vaccine is administrated to make sure they’re not suffering from any serious side effects.