Categorized | Health, Features, Pushback

Here Come the Covid Vaccines: Are Elders A Priority?

vaccines, vaccine

The Operation Warp Speed goal was “to produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines with the initial doses available by January 2021.”

By Al Norman

Last May, President Trump launched Operation Warp Speed (OWS), calling it “unlike anything our country has seen since the Manhattan project.” The OWS goal was “to produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines with the initial doses available by January 2021.”

Between April and November, OWS invested up to $11 billion in 14 promising vaccines, including: $1.95 billion to Pfizer for large-scale manufacturing and nationwide distribution of 100 million doses of their vaccine; $2 billion in funds to support clinical trials and manufacturing of Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) vaccine; $1.5 billion for manufacturing and delivery of 100 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine.

OWS is working on a plan to deliver these vaccines to Americans. Several federal agencies are partnering to coordinate supply, production and distribution issues. In October, the feds unveiled The Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program with CVS and Walgreens to provide and administer COVID-19 vaccines to residents of long-term care facilities (LTCF) nationwide with no out-of-pocket costs. Older people in nursing facilities are disproportionally dying from covid-19.

In Massachusetts, for example, 64 percent of COVID deaths as of mid-November were people in nursing facilities. “Protecting especially vulnerable Americans has been a critical part of the Trump Administration’s work to combat COVID-19,” OWS said, “and LTCF residents may be part of the prioritized groups for initial COVID-19 vaccination efforts until there are enough doses available for every American who wishes to be vaccinated.”

Social Security, ageist, nursing, COVID, TrumpIn November, OWS announced new partnerships with roughly 60 percent of the independent pharmacies and national/regional chain pharmacies in America to get vaccines “into arms as quickly as possible.”

State and local governments also play a key role in ensuring that vaccine reaches the people who need it. A limited number of vaccine doses could be available as early as December. All states were required by October to submit preliminary vaccine distribution plans. The Kaiser Family Foundation reviewed these state plans.

In the first phase of the distribution plan, its assumed that “an initial limited supply of vaccine doses…will be prioritized for certain groups.” KFF notes that the “Biden campaign and transition team have planned for a more prominent role for the federal government in the U.S. COVID-19 response, which would likely include more detailed federal guidance and a stronger federal hand in vaccine distribution, planning and implementation.”

The Trump White House has recently given the Biden transition team access to OWS detailed vaccine plans. Vaccine distribution efforts must be funded — but to date, only $200 million has been distributed to state, territorial, and local jurisdictions for vaccine preparedness.

Every state has specified priority populations for the vaccines. All 47 state plans KFF reviewed identified health care workers, essential workers, and those at high risk —  like older people and those with pre-disposing health risk factors— as priority populations in Phase 1. A little over half the states include racial and ethnic minorities as a priority population group. Some rural states have raised concerns about the lack of personnel to carry out vaccination in some areas.

Most state plans in New England prioritize getting vaccines to the elderly as part of Phase 1 distribution. The Massachusetts plan prioritizes those with underlying medical conditions and people 65 years of age and older. The New Hampshire Plan targets people in nursing homes, residents of assisted living facilities, and people 65 years and older. In Vermont, priority populations include older adults living in congregate or overcrowded conditions, and people of all ages with comorbidity and underlying conditions.

The Maine Plan does not mention elders specifically, but lists nursing facilities and long term care facilities as key partners in distribution, and defines critical populations as those with certain medical conditions — like HIV, Dementia, and hypertension — which put them at an increased risk for severe COVID illness, and people of any age with conditions like kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, serious heart conditions, and Type 2 diabetes.

Elders are written into most vaccine plans. The federal government has bought 500 million doses of vaccines — but it’s not clear whether there will be enough workers to coordinate this very large civilian vaccination program, whether the vaccine supply chain will avoid spot shortages, and whether the public will agree to take the vaccine.

But elders can be assured that they have been designated as a high-risk population in need of priority access to vaccines. Older Americans have been anxiously waiting for the vaccines to arrive. So warp speed can’t come soon enough.

Al Norman worked as a lobbyist and advocate in the Massachusetts elderly services network for 38 years. He can be reached at:

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