PHOENIX — Arizona took a huge step Tuesday toward further protecting the state's most vulnerable, as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout began in skilled nursing facilities.
Many residents and staff opted to receive their first dose of the Moderna vaccine. The group is the second to be prioritized for the vaccine, behind frontline healthcare workers. The importance cannot be overstated after months of lockdowns and deadly outbreaks across Arizona's long-term care facilities.
The healthcare worker vaccines are Pfizer and provided by the government. Meanwhile, the long-term care vaccines are being coordinated through private partnerships with CVS and Walgreens. The two pharmacy giants have been preparing for weeks to organize the complex logistics and set up clinics inside the buildings, in order to efficiently vaccinate the thousands of residents and staff.
The vaccinations brought renewed hope in a return to normalcy.
"This is the beginning of getting liberated from hopefully being quarantined and keeping our residents in their rooms," said Jeff Barrett, Executive Director at Wellsprings of Gilbert.
Barrett said his facility, which has kept out COVID-19 better than most, has tried to make the best of a bad situation when it comes to caring for residents. However, the facility's amenities, sense of community and overall vibe have completely changed and likely will not be the same until there is heard immunity.
"We’re probably looking at the beginning of the third-quarter [of 2020], or end of the third-quarter," said Barrett. "When we see some changes in the positivity rate, it will allow us to get rid of all of this."
One thing that many doctors and epidemiologists are watching closely is the vaccination rate and its impact on community spread.
At Wellsprings of Gilbert, roughly 40% of the staff "opted in" to get the vaccine.
Barrett acknowledging there is some skepticism, even among his staff.
"I hear, 'It seems like it was a rushed vaccine,'" said Barrett. "And a counter that with, it wasn’t rushed, we finally have an efficient system. "Let’s do this for the community. Let’s get this done so that we can get back."
Health experts, at the state and national level, continue to say the vaccine is safe, effective, and crucial for our communities to minimize spread and prevent deaths.
One Wellsprings of Gilbert nurse, Allison McCabe, was one of the first Arizonans to receive the vaccine and said she has had zero adverse effects.
"I had no side effects whatsoever. I feel perfectly fine," said McCabe. "I personally believe they wouldn’t release anything it wasn’t ready. So that’s why I felt confident getting it."
The vaccine supply chain has had some delays in recent weeks, which has put the estimated timeline a bit behind schedule.
Instead of at the end of December, the pharmacies now hope to wrap up Arizona's 146 skilled nursing facilities by mid-January before moving on to assisted living facilities.