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'Hope restored': Vaccinations reset for independent seniors at Westminster Canterbury
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'Hope restored': Vaccinations reset for independent seniors at Westminster Canterbury

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20200318_COV_WESTMINSTER_JM01

The Westminster Canterbury retirement community.

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Independent seniors at Westminster Canterbury Richmond will receive their first COVID-19 vaccinations next week after CVS reversed a decision to cancel previously scheduled clinics to immunize the residents who live independently at the Henrico County retirement community.

CVS has agreed to administer the vaccines to about 550 residents and employees at Westminster Canterbury next Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 3 and 4, as the national pharmacy chain and state scrambled in response to a public uproar that arose after the company canceled plans for vaccinating independent seniors who are not part of the first phase of the vaccine rollout.

“We are very pleased to be rescheduled and to know that our residents are going to be vaccinated,” said John Burns, president and CEO of Westminster Canterbury. “To have that hope restored is really great.”

The push to reschedule the vaccination clinics began soon after the Richmond Times-Dispatch first reported Wednesday that CVS had abruptly canceled its plans to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to independent living residents in mid-February.

“All of a sudden, everyone was calling, saying we’re willing to help,” Burns said.

CVS agreed late Thursday to vaccinate seniors and staff at Westminster Canterbury, both in Richmond and an unaffiliated campus in Irvington on Virginia’s Northern Neck. Westminster Canterbury of Rappahannock includes about 140 independent living residents who were not vaccinated as part of the top-priority populations in long-term care facilities.

“They were willing, ready and eager to fulfill their obligations,” Burns said of CVS, a longtime partner of the retirement community just outside the Richmond city limits in Henrico.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Ralph Northam said the Virginia Department of Health also is working with local pharmacies to schedule vaccination clinics at 31 independent living facilities across the state that are not covered by the national pharmacy partnership between CVS and Walgreens.

“Most of these facilities will receive their first round of vaccinations next week,” Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said Friday.

CVS does not comment on plans for vaccinations at individual facilities, but says it schedules clinics “on a case by case basis” for independent living communities. Those communities are not part of the first phase of the state’s vaccination plan for residents and employees of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

However, independent seniors are “at the top” of the next phase of the state’s plan to protect elderly people from a virus that has killed more than 3,000 residents of long-term care facilities in Virginia, said Dr. Danny Avula, vaccine coordinator for the Northam administration and former director of the Henrico and Richmond health districts.

“We’ll just keep funneling vaccines to these congregate care senior facilities because they are our top priority,” Avula said in an interview Friday.

CVS has administered about 75,000 doses of the vaccine to residents and employees at 870 long-term care facilities in Virginia since the end of December as part of a national pharmacy partnership with Walgreens and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The company says it has administered first doses to all nursing home residents and employees, and second doses to 65% of them. It says it is close to completing first doses for residents and employees of assisted living facilities.

At Westminster Canterbury, CVS already has given both vaccine doses to 465 employees and residents of the community’s skilled nursing units. It also has administered the first dose to 140 assisted living residents and additional employees, who are scheduled to receive the second dose in mid-February.

It remains unclear what prompted the decision to cancel the CVS clinics that it had scheduled for independent living residents at Westminster Canterbury.

The VDH “had nothing to do with these decisions,” spokeswoman Maria Reppas said Friday.

In the governor’s office, Yarmosky said that when the state learned about the cancellation, “we immediately began working with local partners, including the Richmond Health Department, to cover these appointments.”

Burns said Walgreens also had offered to help after learning of the canceled clinics and that the state had recruited local, independent pharmacies to administer the vaccine to independent seniors in the retirement community.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, and Rep. David McKinley, a Republican from West Virginia, urged acting HHS Secretary Norris Cochran on Friday to widen the federal vaccination effort to include community-based pharmacies in addition to the companies in the national pharmacy partnership.

“States that placed community pharmacists in leadership roles have seen a much faster distribution of the vaccine to priority populations,” they said.

Virginia’s new plan is part of an accelerating effort by the Northam administration to vaccinate elderly residents of retirement communities who are not living in institutional settings.

“This is the most vulnerable population,” Avula said. “We’ve got to get these folks taken care of.”

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