METRO ATLANTA, Ga. — Residents of senior living facilities are stepping up for the first round of COVID-19 vaccine.
The Village Park Senior Living and Corso Atlanta communities were among the first in Georgia to receive the vaccines.
More than 95 percent of the residents in Galerie Living communities in Alpharetta, Milton and Peachtree Corners opted to receive the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Village Park Peachtree Corners was the first, with distribution on Dec. 23. Marketing Director Emily Hamrin said residents felt relieved and hopeful.
“I feel so much excitement and a sense of hope,” Hamrin said. “Even though they're still going to be cautious, it gives them a sense of peace just that they have some sort of protection.”
Approximately 37 percent of Georgia’s 9,800 COVID-related deaths came at nursing homes. As the first wave of vaccines arrive, case rates have shot above the previous tramission peak in July with now around 5,000 new cases daily.
So far, the state has spent $78 million in coronavirus relief funds to support COVID-19 testing in nursing homes throughout Georgia.
Just last week, Gov. Brian Kemp announced rollout of a new program for long-term care facilities to partner directly with CVS and Walgreens for vaccine delivery. Already 95 percent of the state’s long-term facilities have enrolled in the program.
Since the statewide shutdown in March, Galerie Living senior communities have adapted visitor protocols for the safety of residents. The company currently allows visits with residents outdoors. If conditions are too cold, the facilities have indoor areas that allow for ample spacing.
Kari Samuelson, chief operating officer, said they are hopeful that after the second vaccination is administered, 21 to 28 days after the first dose, they will be able to change some of the policies for vaccinated residents.
“We do anticipate that it will provide more freedom for residents that have had the vaccine,” Samuelson said. “In general, our hope is to turn to the most normal sense that we can, and we're just waiting for the CDC and Department of Health to tell us the best and the most safe way to do that.”
Staff at Galerie Living communities have the option to receive the vaccine but are not required to. Samuelson said that as time goes on, they will determine when they will require staff to be vaccinated.
Charles Platz, president of Managed Health Solutions pharmacy services, said they were pleased to be able to administer the vaccine to the senior communities and are already planning to vaccinate other local retirement homes.
Platz said the major difference between the two vaccines is the storage. The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage, while Moderna’s serum does not. They plan to administer both vaccines as there is no notable difference in success, both around 95 percent effective.
Samuelson and Platz reported that there have been no extreme reactions to the vaccine in the communities. To avoid reactions, recipients are screened five minutes prior to vaccination for a fever or symptoms and are monitored 15 minutes after the injection for any reactions. Platz said the only reactions he had witnessed was a fever among some of his staff who had already been exposed to the virus.
Platz said he could feel the excitement and eagerness among the community for some glimpse at the light at the end of the tunnel.
“I think they realize that vaccines save lives,” Platz said. “They were high-fiving each other afterwards. Everybody was just so thankful because they want to get back to the old normal. Nobody wants to live in the new normal.”