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With vaccinations set to begin, ‘a huge moment’ for nursing homes

Residents and staff in most long term-care facilities will start receiving vaccinations next week. More than 1 million Americans live in nursing homes and they've been especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Amna Nawaz spoke with Dr. Richard Feifer, chief medical officer for Genesis Healthcare, a large for-profit nursing home company, to learn more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    More than 400 hospitals around the country began giving a COVID vaccine to their employees today, on top of some 140 that received it yesterday.

    The distribution widened, as the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve another vaccine from Moderna by the end of the week. FDA reviewers said that Moderna's two-shot regimen is effective, safe and particularly potent in preventing severe cases.

    The FDA also approved the first at-home test for COVID that can be bought without a prescription and provide quick results. It is expected to become available next month.

    By the end of December, the Trump administration estimates that 20 million people will have gotten vaccinations.

    After health care workers, nursing homes are next in line.

    But, as Amna Nawaz tells us, they pose special challenges.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, residents and staff in most long-term care facilities will start to receive vaccinations next week. Pharmacy giants like CVS and Walgreens will provide the shots on site at nursing homes and other facilities.

    More than one million Americans live in nursing homes, and they are especially vulnerable. Of the 300,000 people in the U.S. who have died from COVID-related causes, more than 100,000 were residents and staff in those facilities.

    Joining us to talk about the plans to mass-vaccinate in these facilities, is Dr. Richard Feifer. He is chief medical officer for Genesis, a large for-profit nursing home company with more than 325 facilities in 24 states.

    Dr. Feifer, welcome to the "NewsHour." And thanks for being with us.

    So, you have partnered with CVS. They're going to be providing the supply chain, the vaccine, the vaccinators coming into your facilities to administer those vaccinations. But it sounds like they're not coming in with enough for everyone.

    So, how are you deciding who gets the vaccine first?

  • Richard Feifer:

    Well, vaccine prioritization is something that we're all wrestling with.

    And our understanding is that CVS will be acquiring vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine first, then the Moderna vaccine, hopefully, when it's approved later this week. And they will be bringing that to all of our facilities nationwide.

    We expect to have enough during each of those visits to vaccinate all staff and residents who want the vaccine. That may lead to some of the vaccine clinics, some of the visits that occur later, to be spaced out a little bit.

    And that's going to be all dependent upon the supply chain that CVS acquires, essentially, from the manufacturers. But if it turns out that the vaccine gets to our centers, and we don't have enough for everyone who wants it, although we anticipate that we will, we do have a prioritization framework, and that is entirely consistent with what CDC has recommended.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You have said that you have enough for everyone who wants it. You have said that the goal is to generate enough high levels of vaccine acceptance voluntarily among your workers and your residents.

    But we know there is skepticism around the vaccine around the country. So, you need people vaccinated to keep them safe. If people refuse, what can you do to make sure the vaccines are administered?

  • Richard Feifer:

    Well, at this time, our focus is on voluntary acceptance by residents in nursing homes, as well as by staff.

    And nursing home staff and residents are just a microcosm of society in general. They have the same questions, the same concerns. They don't know everything that we know in the scientific community about the vaccine. They don't know, for example, that the vaccine development has gone through all the same steps, the same science has gone into it as has gone into every other vaccine or drug development in history.

    They don't know that the same approval process has been followed. And so we need to educate them and engage them, in some cases, engage their peers and role model as leaders. So, we will be among the first, as medical leaders, receiving the vaccine ourselves.

    But we need to make sure that we get high levels of acceptance and vaccination, so that we can protect those in our care. Is it possible that there will be a mandate down the road, maybe a federal mandate for those working in health care or maybe state mandates? That's certainly possible, and maybe even employer mandates.

    But, right now, all of our energy is focused on voluntary acceptance.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Timing is also of the essence. You have said that getting through this quickly is absolutely critical to making it work.

    When do you anticipate this will be done, so to speak? Will everyone be vaccinated by the end of the year in your facilities?

  • Richard Feifer:

    Well, we're certainly eager to get this done as quickly as possible. And the speed is tied to the supply, how much supply there is from Pfizer and from Moderna. And each state actually gets to decide how much of that supply goes to CVS and Walgreens for use in nursing homes, as opposed to hospitals and other settings that are at the same top priority level.

    And so we don't know yet actually how much supply each state is directing to CVS, in our case, for use in our facilities. But when it becomes available, we're going to put it to good use immediately. We already have clinics scheduled in our facilities around the country, starting with CVS, on Monday, and going for the next few weeks.

    We're still looking to see when the farthest out might be. And we don't have a final word on that. But we hope to get the first vaccines in people's arms within just a few weeks, maybe going into the beginning of next year. Then we need to make sure that they come back and get the booster shots, because the vaccine is not entirely effective without two doses.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Can I ask you about the other impact of this pandemic, which is financial? And the costs of the pandemic have been enormous for your industry.

    Your company is no exception. Where are you now? Do you feel like you're on the brink if you don't get financial help soon?

  • Richard Feifer:

    Well, that's such an important question.

    The cost of caring for residents during this pandemic has skyrocketed, staffing costs, PPE costs and otherwise. And revenues have also been a major struggle, because so many fewer people are actually coming to skilled nursing facilities out of the hospital, because so much care has been delayed. Hospitals have felt that impact as well.

    And so it's a real struggle. All of us in the health care industry are working hard to get through it to the other side. And, yes, it's a major issue. We have spoken with key leaders in Washington about this. And we're eager to receive whatever support we can. And we're also grateful for the support we have already received through legislation and also executive action.

    We're very grateful for the support that's helped us keep going throughout this pandemic.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dr. Feifer, can I ask you? We mentioned the disproportionate deaths suffered in your facilities, facilities around the country.

    You're now at a point where you will soon have the vaccine to save people from dying. What does this moment feel like to you?

  • Richard Feifer:

    Well, this is a huge moment. We finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. There's been so much suffering in nursing homes around the country and around the world, residents, their loved ones, and even nursing home staff.

    And so we're entering this final phase. And I'm optimistic. We have got to get it right. It's really complicated. We have got all the right people working on it. But I'm optimistic that we're going to see the end of this pandemic in a matter of just a few months, as we get through this.

    And I'm so glad to see that nursing homes have been prioritized for that first wave of vaccination.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dr. Richard Feifer of Genesis HealthCare, thanks so much for being with us.

  • Richard Feifer:

    Thank you very much.

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