Some industry providers have moved with urgency in recent weeks to schedule their first Covid-19 vaccine booster shot clinics, even as the U.S. Food and Drug (FDA) administration is still mulling them for the general public. That includes Louisville, Kentucky-based senior living operator Atria Senior Living, which plans to start administering Covid-19 booster shots during its communities’ upcoming flu clinics in mid-September.
“Our flu clinics will double as booster shot clinics,” Atria CEO John Moore told Senior Housing News. “People will get a flu shot in one arm and a booster in the other.”
Like other senior living providers in the industry, Atria took note of President Biden’s stated plan to begin offering Covid-19 booster shots by Sept. 20, Moore said. And while there are still questions regarding what regulatory officials will ultimately decide to recommend, the White House has pledged to put long-term care settings at the front of the pack for additional vaccine doses, and a CDC advisory committee supported that plan this week.
“The bottom line is that we’re ready to go as soon as formal approval happens,” Moore said.
Atria, which in June announced plans to acquire Holiday Retirement, is among the largest providers of senior living in the U.S., with more than 430 communities.
Atria is not the only senior living provider gearing up to administer Covid-19 booster shots during flu clinics. Birmingham, Michigan-based Bloom Senior Living, which owns and manages five communities in South Carolina, Indiana and Louisiana, also plans to vaccinate residents and staff alongside giving them their flu shots.
“We’re lucky that some of our partners have been able to say, ‘We have the booster doses and we can come in and do that,” Bloom Director of Education and Development Melissa Campbell told SHN.
Other companies, like Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD), are actively working on the logistics of distributing booster shots so that they can get moving once the federal government gives the all-clear to do so.
“If there’s a coordinated roll-out on booster shots, it’s logical that senior living residents and community associates, who were among the first to receive vaccines, should get the first boosters,” a spokesperson for the company said in a statement to SHN.
While Atria is sticking with its original vaccine partner, CVS Health, others — like Bloom — are choosing smaller, more local pharmacy partners for this go-around. That has in some cases led to an uptick in operator interest for pharmacies that service the senior living industry, such as Medication Management Partners or the in-house long-term care pharmacy of Marquis Companies, Consonus Pharmacy.
Some questions remain about what comes next with regard to Covid-19 booster shots, such as whether they should be administered six or eight months after the second dose, or who will ultimately be recommended to get them. The questions regarding timing likely are a moot point for senior living residents, many of whom got their shots six to eight months ago.
Though the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met earlier this week, it did not formally endorse boosters for all Americans. Instead, the committee recommended that booster shots go first to residents and workers in long-term care settings, such as nursing homes and assisted living communities. The next step in federal approval could come later this month on Sept. 17, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will convene a meeting to discuss vaccine boosters.
Federal regulators have already given the green light to additional vaccine shots for immunocompromised people, and the CDC believes nearly a million such doses have already been administered.
The senior care industry might also get access to boosters at different times. For instance, the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) anticipates that skilled nursing providers that have access to vaccines through a long-term care pharmacy will see a “fairly streamlined” process, with vaccine doses quickly made available. For assisted living providers — who may not have a relationship with an LTC pharmacy like a skilled nursing facility would — it may take more time.
“The speed at which they need to be administered will depend on the FDA and ACIP recommendation,” a representative for the organization told SHN in an email. “We continue to engage with public health officials to help advise and streamline the process for administering booster shots, considering the diversity of the long-term care profession.”
That uncertainty has put the senior living industry and pharmacy partners in a kind of “hold pattern” with regard to the booster shots, according to Beth Biggs, vice president of client care at Consonus Pharmacy.
“We’re in this unique position right now, where we … have one message from one governing entity, and then another message from an advisory body through the CDC,” Biggs told SHN.
Despite the lingering uncertainty, senior living companies and their pharmacy partners are moving with speed to ensure they will be ready to go if and when the recommendations are set.
Patrice Johnson, director of partner success for Crestwood, Illinois-based Medication Management Partners, estimates that the majority of senior living operators she is aware of have already reached out to their pharmacy partner of choice to get the ball rolling on scheduling booster clinics. In many cases, they are aiming to hold them during flu clinics, like Atria and Bloom.
“Perhaps they don’t have their dates, but they’ve already reached out and they’re working with a provider to get this done,” Johnson told SHN.
Staying ahead of the curve is exactly what senior living providers should be trying to do now, both Johnson and Biggs said. Both stressed the need for senior living providers to be ready to administer booster shots sooner rather than later.
“What [operators] should be doing is making sure that their pharmacy partner does have a supply on hand, and that they are ready to go,” Biggs said.
She also suggested operators have a plan for how the vaccines will be administered onsite and by whom, given the fact that staffing is so tight this year.
AHCA/NCAL is also recommending that providers collect information on the vaccination status of their residents and staff in order to have that information ready to share with a vaccine provider down the road.
Atria was among the first senior living providers to start administering the Covid-19 vaccine in its communities late last year. And CEO Moore believes that has laid the groundwork for an even smoother vaccine shot rollout this time around.
“In the first handful of clinics, there was on-the-job training,” Moore said. “We’ve also made our tracking systems and IT ensure the information on vaccination statuses is readily available and usable.”
Unlike late last year when vaccines were more scarce, Moore is confident there will be enough vaccine booster doses for any staff member or resident who wants them. The provider in January made getting vaccinated a condition of employment. Holiday Retirement followed suit on Aug. 24 with its own directive that employees get their first vaccine dose by Oct. 4.
Bloom Senior Living is another provider administering vaccine doses during flu clinics. Instead of working with CVS like it did the first time, the company has partnered with local pharmacies in the states where it has communities, such as Burke’s Main Street Pharmacy in South Carolina.
“There is a little more flexibility [with a local partner] where we can pick dates that work for us and things like that,” Campbell said. “If I work with a local pharmacy, they can come … today, and do a vaccination, and then they go to another [Bloom] community tomorrow.”
Like Moore and Atria, Campbell believes Bloom will have an easier time with the booster shots, given that it has already been through the process multiple times before. The company plans to prioritize vaccinating residents, then unvaccinated staff, then vaccinated staff looking to get booster shots, and include them all in one go as long as there are enough doses.
Given the nature of Covid-19 and all of its unknowns, it’s possible that more boosters will be needed in the future. But if that happens, Campbell believes Bloom can stay ahead of the game.
“We really work to be as proactive as we possibly can be,” she said.