I-TEAM: Experts warn of possible problems distributing COVID-19 vaccine to California nursing homes

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- California is one of four states tasked by the Trump administration to develop a thorough plan to distribute a vaccine to nursing homes and long-term care facilities, but experts warn there will be problems with it.

"I think my mom should be at the top of the list when there is a proven vaccine," said Scott Akrie about his mom who lives in long-term care facility.

Akrie lost his father, Costell to COVID-19. Now, he's scared for his mom.

"I definitely don't want to lose her like I lost my father, I don't know what I'd do," he said.

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According to federal guidelines, nursing home residents are part of the first phase of distribution.

"We can't afford to get this wrong," said Mike Wasserman, the past president of the California Association of Long-term Care Medicine. Wasserman is advising the state on their plan.
"At the federal level, it appears that the administration is looking at major pharmacy chains for distribution," he said. "One of the problems with major pharmacy chains is they don't have a clue as to how nursing homes operate and function."

Wasserman is recommending the California Dept. of Public Health work with consultant pharmacists and long-term care pharmacies who understand how the facilities function.

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ABC7 News Reporter Stephanie Sierra asked, "We understand the state has had six weeks to develop this plan. What has been the main problem?"

"They don't know exactly what to prepare for because the federal government has not been fully transparent about its efforts to fully distribute the vaccine," Wasserman said.

The lack of transparency is paired with concerns over vaccine storage.

"We know the vaccine that's going to be out there is going to require something called cold chain storage, something that nursing homes simply don't have," he said.
ABC7's analysis of state COVID data shows more than 4,500 nursing home residents and 152 healthcare workers have died across the state after contracting the virus. New data shows both cases and deaths are declining, but Wasserman pointed out the weekly totals are still staggering.

"We are still seeing upwards of 50 to 60 deaths in nursing homes across the state every week," he said.

Akrie is praying he won't have to live through that pain again.

"I know I'm going to lose her one day, but I definitely don't want to lose her like I lost my father," he said. "I don't know what I'd do."

Once a vaccine is approved, the distribution could begin in nursing home facilities within 24 hours. Wasserman said counties with a higher positivity rate of the virus could get priority.

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The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) told ABC7 the agency is establishing a Scientific Safety Workgroup to closely monitor all available information about the candidate COVID-19 vaccines. This includes their Phase 3 trials, the FDA review process, and any independent evaluations. CDPH will need evidence that the vaccine candidates are safe and effective before distributing them. Planning for the vaccine has involved coordination with numerous stakeholders including California's local health departments, multiple state agencies, and community-based organizations.

In addition, other important considerations will include:
  • ability to reach priority populations

  • ability to collect data and track vaccine doses

  • ability to ensure that vaccine is provided to priority groups

  • ability to meet vaccine storage requirements

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