COVID-19 vaccination can help keep long-term care open

Dr. Johnson: Even with breakthrough cases, vaccine is still the ‘right choice’

Dr. Johnson and Matt Holsen

With COVID-19 cases surging across the country, Good Samaritan Society Chief Medical Officer Gregory Johnson, M.D., wants you to know this surge is different. The delta variant is different.

“We know that it’s more transmissible,” Dr. Johnson says. He adds it’s also “more common to have it happen in kids. At least where we saw kids excluded the first time, we see it kind of creeping into that population.”

Any protection against the virus is better than no protection, even during an uptick in cases. While many children aren’t eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. Johnson is encouraging everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated if they haven’t done so already.

“The vaccine is just effective in general. We love the numbers we see on safety and efficacy with the vaccine. Same message with the delta variant. Still helpful. Still the right thing to do,” Dr. Johnson says.

Watch now: Dr. Johnson joined Sanford Health News for a Facebook Live Q&A, Aug. 31

Numbers he doesn’t like to see include the impact of COVID-19 on long-term care residents.

“There are 1.5 million people who live in long-term care, and 134,000 deaths was the most recent number that came out. Really disproportionately large group of people that have been hit hard,” Dr. Johnson says.

‘Excited’ about FDA approval

Vaccinations have dramatically reduced serious cases at the Society. With the recent FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Johnson wonders why people are still waiting to roll up their sleeves.

“I was excited (to see the news), for sure.” Dr. Johnson says. “Some people need to have that stamp of approval. So that’s good. If that provides people that comfort, now is the time.”

Slowing the spread and protecting the most vulnerable among us is a high priority. The Society is home to some people who are immunocompromised. Location leaders and families can start identifying who these residents are and get them a CDC recommended third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

“With Pfizer and Moderna, those are the only two that the third dose applies to right now,” Dr. Johnson says. “For people who have less robust immune systems, to consider them fully vaccinated we really should tack a third one on there, and that’s the series.”

The third dose will increase immunity against COVID-19. Residents can get the additional dose at their Society location or through their doctor.

Long-term care vaccine mandates

Society staff members have until November to get a COVID-19 vaccine following an announcement in July. Dr. Johnson says other organizations have made the same decision since, and President Joe Biden’s administration could add a federal requirement too.

“The White House came out and said we’re going to mandate vaccine for health care workers in long-term care,” Dr. Johnson says.

The timing on how that will roll out is currently being worked through.

He says the CDC, Medicare, FDA, Department of Health and Human Services, and vaccine subgroups need “to figure out the steps, how it’s going to go, what’s the timeline and how we’re going to keep track.”

Visits ‘cornerstone of how we deliver care’

In the meantime, Society locations are taking safety precautions to keep residents safe while still allowing visitation from loved ones.

“Generally, we are open for business. We are open for visitors. When there’s even one case, though, according to our regulating body at the federal level, that’s considered an outbreak. When there’s an outbreak, that means things do shut down in terms of visitation,” Dr. Johnson says.

During a shutdown, staff members and residents undergo COVID-19 testing to limit the spread. Once the location is clear, visits can pick back up.

Compassionate care visits are always allowed for residents, regardless of COVID outbreak status.

“We do some pretty complicated medical things (at the Society), just like a hospital, but this is where people live,” Dr. Johnson says. He adds that visits from loved ones and social events are “a cornerstone of how we deliver care.”

Getting vaccinated doesn’t mean you will be invincible, but you will have an effective armor of protection. Dr. Johnson says breakthrough cases happen, and older adults are more at risk.

“’Breakthrough case’ means despite vaccination that an individual ended up with a positive test,” Dr. Johnson says. “It doesn’t make it the wrong choice. It’s still absolutely the right choice. People should not be discouraged by what’s completely expected based on the efficacy of the vaccine.”

From supporting residents to our essential health care workers, Dr. Johnson says the best way to help is to get the shot.

“At our headquarters we have a memorial garden,” Dr. Johnson says. “This summer, we added bricks to this memorial garden. We had a memorial for nearly 700 people — 696 individuals who died. People who were residents we took care of died because of COVID. There’s a completely reasonable answer which is get the vaccine. The plea is that we don’t need to go through this again. There’s an answer.”

Information in this story was accurate when it was posted. As the COVID-19 pandemic changes, scientific understanding and guidelines may have changed since the original publication date.

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Posted In Coronavirus, Expert Q&A, Immunizations, Senior Services

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