Vaccines started in January for older adults in long-term careJan 20, 2021 10:49AM ● By Heather Lawrence
Older adults in residential centers like Riverway Assisted Living in South Jordan got the COVID-19 vaccine in January. (Angelica Roman/Riverway Assisted Living)
By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]
Older adults in Utah residential facilities have started the COVID-19 vaccination process. All Utahns age 70 and older are eligible to get the vaccine, but demand has so far outweighed supply and appointments quickly filled up. Care centers had an advantage because they partnered with pharmacies that brought the vaccine to them.
“We chose to partner with Walgreens Pharmacy to administer the Pfizer vaccines. Three days were set aside for vaccinations. Jan. 7 was the first day of administration to all residents and staff,” said Derek White, senior vice president of Cascades Health, which runs Sandy Health and Rehab on 50 E. 9000 South.
“The vaccine requires two doses 21 days apart, so subsequent dosing days are scheduled on Jan. 28 and Feb. 18. The process went smoothly, with a sore injection site being the most common complaint,” White said.
In South Jordan, vaccinations started at Riverway Assisted Living on Jan. 8. Riverway is run by SAL Management Group, which also manages care centers in Sandy, West Jordan, Holladay, West Valley and other Utah sites. They are all on the same vaccination schedule and also used Walgreens Pharmacy.
For Riverway administrator Jim Scadlock, the vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel that we’ve all been waiting for. “It’s all paying off. When we get to the 21 days after the second shot on Feb. 19, our building is going to be able to open up for visits with friends and family,” Scadlock said.
“This won’t last forever—just a few more weeks, and it will start to feel normal around here. That’s what I really want people to know,” Scadlock said.
Scadlock’s urgency to get the vaccine administered is personal. In November he urged families to be cautious about holiday get-togethers and shared that his own mother had recently passed away under lockdown conditions.
“My mother lived in assisted living in Pleasant Grove. I had not seen her since March—eight months. In November, my sisters and I received a call from the hospice nurse telling us she wouldn’t last through the day and that we could come say goodbye.
“An hour later, she quietly slipped away,” Scadlock said.
The CDC reports the risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19 increases with age. Older adults are one of the most vulnerable populations, which is why residential care centers had access to the vaccine. But their ability to protect residents from the virus varies.
Sandy Health and Rehab is a skilled nursing facility. They accept patients directly from hospital discharge. They have a generally sicker population and more residents coming and going. The rehab center is in the “red zone” on the Utah Department of Health’s dashboard for facilities with outbreaks reported on Jan. 19.
Riverway is an assisted living and memory care residential facility. Their residents are generally healthier and more independent than at a skilled nursing facility. As of Jan. 18, Riverway reports one resident infection with light symptoms and less than five infections in staff members.
Months ago, Scadlock took the initiative to get Riverway certified as a lab so they could do their own rapid testing. He describes the rapid test as a swab in the nostril as opposed to the deep and uncomfortable “brain tickle” of the PCR tests.
CLIA certification allowed Riverway to test after exposures and get results in 15 minutes. This limited quarantine times, during which residents would be restricted to their rooms for at least five days.
Both facilities interviewed for this story said there were no adverse effects or reactions to the vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine does not contain weakened or inactivated strains of the virus. Instead, it uses mRNA to trigger an immune response and produce antibodies.
Older adults who don’t live in facilities can find information about getting the vaccine on the Salt Lake County Health Department’s website, slco.org/health/COVID-19/vaccine/. They are out of vaccines at the time of this writing, but people can sign up to be notified when appointments are available again.
The Utah Health Department said that any side effects of getting the vaccine are far outweighed by the benefits of not getting COVID-19.