The health care community, since the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in December, has been faced with the incredible task of vaccinating hundreds of millions of Americans, with those aged 65 and over deemed a priority. The rollout has been slow for many reasons, including the lack of vaccine supply and a patchwork of national policies that has led to logistical challenges. Add to this, states have developed their own plans with counties often deviating from these plans. Some states as a result have fared better than others, depending on the uniformity of vaccine protocols and delivery systems.
One group particularly impacted by the vaccination rollout are homebound patients. Approximately 1.9 million adults over age 65 are mostly homebound and 5.3 million have health conditions that make leaving home difficult, according to the health policy think tank Commonwealth Fund. They often can’t get to a vaccination site where the vaccine is available, or the sites are located far from their homes and the wait is very long. Transportation is a challenge as well for families, particularly if a patient is wheelchair-bound.
To address this, home health care providers and agencies are stepping up to focus on the homebound elderly community. For example, the Visiting Nurse Association of Vermont this month issued a bulletin advising that “agencies are teaming up with emergency medical services teams to identify and vaccinate homebound Vermonters. The vaccination effort will begin with homebound individuals already being cared for by a home health and hospice agency or an area agency on aging. Over the coming weeks, the effort will expand to other homebound Vermonters.”
In other parts of the country, some home health care agencies are arranging transportation to COVID-19 vaccination sites for their homebound clients. Some agencies are looking to partner with health care providers who are permitted to bring vaccines to people’s homes. Home health care aides are not licensed to administer vaccines.
Addressing Patients’ Concerns
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published recommended guidelines to help health care providers discuss the COVID-19 vaccination with patients, including common concerns about the vaccine, what to expect, listening and responding to inquiries, and recommending that patients be immunized. Not all Americans are on board in getting the vaccine.
Vaccinating Those on the Front Line: Our Health Care Workers
Health care workers must also be vaccinated to protect themselves from becoming infected and transmitting the virus as they care for others. The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) urges all health care providers to encourage home care and hospice staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, provide the support needed for access to the vaccine; make information regarding the vaccine available; encourage and support the availability and administration of the vaccine to patients and caregivers in the home; and employ ongoing effective infection-control measures. Additional information from the NAHC on COVID-19 can be found here.
As the various vaccines become available to more Americans, ensuring high vaccination rates is equally important, especially as new strains of the coronavirus emerge. The CDC estimates that to date, 32.9 million* people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including about 9.8 million people who have been fully vaccinated. Some experts, according to a New York Times article, have estimated that “70% to 90% of the population needs to acquire resistance to the coronavirus to reach herd immunity, when transmission of the virus substantially slows because enough people have been protected through infection or vaccination.”
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Sources: MarketWatch, VNA Vermont, CDC, NAHC, New York Times
*February 9, 2021