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Vaccines Are Arriving At Nursing Homes In LA County

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A pharmacist at UCI Health Center preps a COVID-19 vaccine. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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Nursing homes in most of L.A. County have started distributing the COVID-19 vaccine directly to staff and residents, instead of relying on a federally organized program that will administer the doses through a partnership with CVS and Walgreens.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health — excluding the cities of Pasadena and Long Beach — opted out of the federal program, citing a desire to work on a faster schedule.

“People are anxious to get the vaccinations going, clearly,” said Deborah Pacyna with the California Association of Health Facilities. Founded in 1950, the non-profit trade association represents skilled-nursing facilities and intermediate-care facilities for people with intellectual disabilities.

As of this weekend, 1,748 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine had been administered at 59 skilled nursing facilities in the county, said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at a press conference today. Unlike the Pfizer version, the Moderna vaccine does not need to be kept at ultracold temperatures and can remain refrigerated for nearly a month.

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Still, Pacyna said, some providers have been so busy treating the surge of new COVID patients that it’s been a challenge to free up staff for vaccine administration.

“Everybody’s really busy with patient care right now, dealing with outbreaks, keeping COVID out of the buildings," Pacyna said. “Now they are tasked with making sure they’re administering the vaccine appropriately.”

It’s been a tradeoff between the flexibility of working independently from pharmacies and the extra work of organizing vaccinations, Pacyna said.

According to Ferrer, vaccine distribution began in skilled nursing facilities just before Christmas and will accelerate over the next two weeks.

The federal program with CVS and Walgreens rolls out in other parts of California today, including Pasadena, starting with nursing home staff. The federal distribution program will serve other long-term care facilities in the county starting in early January.

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There have been more than 23,000 COVID-19 cases at nursing homes in L.A. County over the course of the pandemic, according to county officials, and more than 2,300 residents have died. Thousands of staff have been infected, and 78 nursing home staff members have passed away from the virus.

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