POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – The first COVID-19 vaccinations are underway at U.S. nursing homes, where the virus has killed more than 110,000 people, even as the nation struggles to contain a surge so alarming it has spurred California to dispense thousands of body bags and line up refrigerated morgue trucks.
With the rollout of shots picking up speed Wednesday, lawmakers in Washington closed in on a long-stalled $900 billion coronavirus relief package that would send direct payments of around $600 to most Americans. Meanwhile, the U.S. appeared to be days away from adding a second vaccine to its arsenal.
At the same time, a major snowstorm pushing its way into the Northeast raised concern it could disrupt distribution of the first vaccine.
Nursing home residents in Florida began receiving shots Wednesday, after nearly 2,000 such vaccinations were administered in West Virginia on Tuesday. Thousands more are scheduled there in the coming days. Other states are expected to follow soon.
The elderly and infirm in long-term care have been among the most vulnerable to the virus and, together with health workers, are first in line to get the limited, initial supplies of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech. Nursing home residents and workers account for more than one-third of the nation's 300,000 or so confirmed deaths from COVID-19.
In Florida, the longtime retirement haven whose 141,000 nursing home residents are the second most of any state behind California, eagerness to get the vaccine was mixed with some anxiety.
“I hope it will help me from getting COVID,” said 88-year-old retired schoolteacher Vera Leip, a resident of John Knox Village near Fort Lauderdale. “I don’t know anything about it, but I would prefer not to have it.”
The home is not requiring its employees to get the vaccine, and only 80 of the 200 staffers in the skilled nursing facility volunteered for the first wave, said Mark Rayner, its director of health services. He said many of those declining the shot are African-American and don’t trust it, given the nation's history of medical experimentation on Black people.