Video: How Does The Covid Vaccine Impact People With Dementia?
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of conversations with CarePatrol. The articles are Q and As with thought leaders from the senior care industry. In this edition, Becky Bongiovanni, brand president of CarePatrol, speaks with Kinsey McManus who is the program director of the Alzheimer's Association Desert Southwest Chapter.
Becky Bongiovanni: I'd like to ask you some questions from your and the Alzheimer's Association's perspective that I think most people are asking right now. Are vaccines safe for people living with Alzheimer's disease?
Kinsey McManus: Currently, the Food and Drug Administration has approved two vaccines, one through Pfizer and one through McDermott. As a part of getting that approval, they had to go through clinical trials that were very large, which included testing the safety standards for people across different races, ages, ethnicities and medical conditions.
If you're concerned about the safety of vaccines, it's important to talk to your health care provider. We’ve heard some people have had more significant reactions to the Pfizer vaccine. I do want to be clear that none of the complications was life-threatening.
Take the time, and talk to your physician or your most trusted health care provider to make the decision you feel is the safest. If you have severe allergies, there may be recommendations your physician can make to help mitigate those issues or at least be prepared should that happen in the rare circumstance.
Becky: If a loved one with dementia is in assisted living, how does the family make sure that they get or not get the vaccine? And what if the loved one is unable to consent?
Kinsey: My general recommendation is to connect with the long-term care setting. If it's the director of the community or the director of nursing, talk to them about what their rollout plan is internally. It's really important to know what their processes are and what their mindset is so that they'll be able to help you in addressing specific concerns, for example, if your loved one does or does not want to have the vaccine or if you want to be there. The vaccine is not mandated; people do not have to take it. While we at the association strongly recommend getting the vaccine, it is not a requirement.
That's also something to think about with the staff of the long-term care facilities and the different community settings. They're also not mandated to get the vaccine. So again, it's really connecting with someone in their leadership at the community setting to find out what their plan is and if they are doing something specific around it.
If the loved one cannot give consent, the consent should come from the loved one’s power of attorney or the identified family member who is legally permitted to make medical decisions.
There still needs to be access to personal protective equipment, rapid testing and other security and safety measures wherever your loved one is currently residing. The reality is that not everyone may get the vaccine where your loved one lives, and that includes fellow residents, as well as some of the staff. So it's critically important to ask serious questions around how they are going to handle that.
Becky: If someone does not want to take the vaccine, what is it that they need to do?
Kinsey: If they have the capability of consent, they can talk to the staff in whatever care setting they’re in. To decline the vaccine, it should be a simple process of stating that you're not interested in taking the vaccine. If there's any paperwork associated with that, it would be important to ask.
And if they choose not to take the vaccine at this time, it doesn't mean there wouldn't be opportunities later down the road.
Then, for family members who may be the power of attorney or the identified medical decision-maker, again, it's connecting with whoever is in charge.
Becky: What about the people who work in long-term care communities? How would families find out what the vaccination plan is for their employees?
Kinsey: Our frontline workers and our health care staff are getting vaccinated. My understanding is that you should be able to contact the person leading up the distribution plan for that location to find out what their protocols are for staff. Certainly, if your loved one is residing in the care facility or the care setting, they’re probably going to be required to disclose the percentage of vaccinations, I would assume. Again, I'm now talking into the world of the unknown a little bit. We saw states and municipalities step in to make sure that our care facilities were being transparent.
Again, it's so important to be in regular contact with the person overseeing the distribution process or whoever the organization determines is the person for families to interface with.
Becky: What's the timeline for the vaccines and who's giving them?
Kinsey: I wish I could wave a magic wand and be able to tell you that this was a really easy answer to share. The reality is that each state has been given the responsibility to determine its distribution plan across the state.
Now, generally, everyone is following those guidelines from the CDC, but the rollout state to state, county to county, and even within a state can look very different.
My recommendation is to learn your state's overarching plan and your county’s Public Health Department plan. We've seen that some states are much more aggressive in the initial rollout than others. Some states are reporting that they didn't get the volume of vaccines they anticipated when they developed the rollout plan.
If your loved one is not in a long-term care setting, then they may still be in the next priority group because they have some type of breathing condition or are 75+. Again, it's checking in, specifically with your local level, to determine the specific categories and which one your loved one falls into.
We do strongly recommend that caregivers get vaccinated as soon as they can, as well. Again, it's just for the safety of all involved.
Becky: If you've already had COVID-19, do you need to be vaccinated?
Kinsey: We suspect that people who have had COVID-19 develop antibodies. Currently, it's unclear how long you may gain those protections. The CDC is recommending that, even if you have had COVID-19 in the past, you should get the vaccine. It's really important to not assume that having had it protects you against getting it.
Becky: If you have a loved one who is in a long-term care setting and they have received the vaccine, are there restrictions or requirements?
Kinsey: It’s important that you know what their plans are around visitation and how that is going to evolve. We know how long you have been waiting and how much your loved one needs you. We're hoping to see some evolution there, but it's a bit early to expect that right now as we're just starting to see people get the second dose. It takes some time to develop immunity even once you've received both vaccinations. The reality is the vaccines have been shown to be 95% effective. So, we still have to take precautions and be careful, especially as we are still ramping up.