Families hope to reconnect with loved ones living in long-term care facilities after COVID-19 vaccines are distributed

Metro Health says healthcare workers will be top priority in receiving vaccine if approved

SAN ANTONIO – Many people are hopeful after an emergency meeting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s panel of advisers got together to discuss a distribution plan for the COVID-19 vaccine and determine who would get it first.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 to recommend priority be given to health care workers and those living in long-term care facilities in the first days of any coming vaccination program.

Individual states will still need to decide what recommendations will follow since supply will be limited once the vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Eryn Morris, whose mother is staying in a long-term care facility in Seguin, is hopeful for what’s to come.

“Back in March, they shut all of these facilities down,” Morris said. “I haven’t seen my mother since March. I am excited about the news. It is not about my mother. It is about the other residents there. That is why vaccines exist -- to protect the most vulnerable. Not that we don’t need it out here. They need it more than we do.”

Dr. Anita Kurian, assistant director of the Metropolitan Health District, said Texas would focus on health care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic, who will be able to take the vaccine voluntarily.

“Mainly the hospital staff working directly with patients positive or at high risk for COVID-19 and long-term care staff working directly with vulnerable residents and EMS providers and home health care workers as well,” Kurian said. “It is important that we protect our healthcare workers who are our frontline workers and who are actually taking care of the COVID-19 patients and others in the hospital.”

Kurian said there are still unknowns about the vaccine.

“How long is immunity going to last? If it is given to hospitalized patients, will it reduce the severity of illness? Will it reduce infectiousness if given to a person?” Kurian said about the questions she’s heard.

She said she is pleased with the work that has been done.

“Amazing science has been happening all around us,” Kurian said. “This is the first time in history, if I can remember correctly, that we have a vaccine for a novel infection in such a short time. This has never happened before. It is healthy to be a little skeptical. But I would say speed was crucial, but the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines have always been paramount to researchers and FDA, and according to FDA, no corners have been cut.”

Morris said she is looking forward to the day she can physically be with her mother again.

“They need to be able to see and touch their family members,” Morris said. “They need that. They are not thriving because of the isolation. They need it desperately, and we need to see them. We need to get back to normal. It is enough of this.”

Pfizer’s vaccine must be held in sub-zero temperatures. Metro Health says University Health is just one of the hospitals equipped with the freezers to store the vaccine and acknowledges that Texas’ rural counties may face a challenge with storage.

The CDC’s advisory committee is set to meet again after the FDA announces emergency approval for the vaccine.

About the Authors: