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COVID-19 Vaccine: Staying Safe After You and Your Loved One Get Vaccinated

By Claire SamuelsMarch 15, 2021
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With effective vaccines and other COVID safety protocols, senior living communities are seeing much-needed hope for a return to normal. Long-term care infection and death numbers are both rapidly declining, and residents can enjoy more social interaction, dining, and activities.

Learn what your elderly loved one can expect after receiving the vaccine, how senior living community staff and residents are working together to build a “new normal,” and what you can do to help aging adults stay safe until the pandemic is over.

Looking forward to normal

“In our minds, the return to normal starts with the first vaccine clinic in Atria communities,” says John Moore, chairman and CEO of Louisville, Kentucky-based Atria Senior Living. As of Valentine’s Day, over 30,000 Atria residents and staff members have been vaccinated.

But that doesn’t mean COVID precautions will end in March – in fact, they’re likely to last well into the summer. Resident well-being will balance with increasingly relaxed safety measures as senior living communities continue to comply with state and local guidelines.

As more Americans are vaccinated, regulations are expected to loosen and finally lift. So while you might not be able to share a hug or an un-masked visit with your aging loved one yet, the vaccine is a solid first step toward that goal.

Balancing safety and social interaction

“We’re hopeful that disease growth will decline considerably and provide us with more opportunities to balance the need for ‘normal’ with the need for safety,” says Moore. “We’ll push to return to 50% use of community spaces, including dining and gatherings of residents in groups of 15.” Atria communities also plan to keep a careful eye on metrics and remain vigilant with testing and symptom screenings.

Active, engaged, and enjoying retirement

Community staff and residents have shown creativity and resilience throughout the pandemic. As amenities re-open and traditional activities resume, directors and staff members will continue to promote safety while encouraging social interaction.

Some ways senior living communities reduce isolation while keeping residents safe include:

  • Outdoor activities, when weather permits, like exercise classes
  • Unique, stimulating socially distanced activities
  • Dining in “pods,” or small social groups
  • Reserved time slots for amenities like pools, fitness centers, and salons
  • Masked games and events, like trivia and bingo

Visiting a vaccinated loved one

In some states, visits with elderly loved ones are permitted, while other areas maintain tight restrictions. Brookdale Senior Living, a Brentwood, Tennessee-based group of more than 700 senior living and retirement communities across the country, is re-introducing visits where community and local guidelines allow. These in-person, outdoor visits prioritize keeping residents, guests, and staff safe. Some visitor precautions include:

In places where visit restrictions haven’t been eased, there are still plenty of ways to show aging loved ones you care. Virtual chats via Skype or Zoom, scheduled window visits, and even snail mail are all ways to stay connected.

“Hope is here”: Vaccine clinics continue

As rollout speeds increase, record numbers of seniors are being vaccinated. While about 14% of the US population has received a shot, the number is much higher among those over 65 – almost 47% as of early March, according to the CDC. Most states have expanded vaccine eligibility to include all people over 65 – even those who aren’t in a long-term care setting.

Senior living communities are doing their part to encourage vaccination. Brookdale Senior Living reports that all communities have either received the vaccine or are scheduled to receive it, while Atria Senior Living has launched a “sleeves up” campaign, and continues to see disease numbers decline. Even independent living communities, which had to advocate for on-site vaccine clinics early on, are making progress. As of March, Holiday Retirement reported 121 clinics have been completed, and 193 more are scheduled.

What should seniors expect after the vaccine?

After the vaccine, seniors may experience side effects and should plan to maintain COVID safety protocols until their community is fully vaccinated. Monitoring potential effects and taking measures to stay safe after vaccination are important steps in stopping the spread among seniors, since it may still be possible to transmit the virus to unprotected individuals once vaccinated, according to the CDC.

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Vaccine side effects

Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson haven’t encountered major adverse side effects in their vaccine trials. The good news for seniors? People ages 65 and older actually reported fewer negative effects than younger demographics.

Knowing potential side effects for the elderly in advance can help reduce anxiety and encourage seniors to participate in vaccine clinics, so discuss them with your loved one ahead of time if they’re nervous. Side effects generally only last for 24-48 hours, and may include headache, nausea, fatigue, and a low-grade fever. Remember: Side effects indicate the body is having the appropriate immune response. While they may be uncomfortable, they’re generally short-lived. The CDC suggests over-the-counter pain relief, like Tylenol or Advil.

Staying safe after the vaccine

In addition to keeping track of even minor side effects for community staff to report, seniors should plan to:

  • Continue wearing masks, washing hands frequently, and social distancing. Immunity doesn’t happen overnight. After getting vaccinated, your body has to go through something called seroconversion. During this process, your immune system recognizes the vaccine and “attacks” it, eventually leading to the development of antibodies. Sometimes, this takes several weeks, during which people may still contract the virus.
  • Receive COVID-19 tests regularly. “Going forward, we’ll continue to test as long as the disease is present, and to monitor local disease dynamics,” says Bill Todd, public relations director for Atria Senior Living. “Until after basically everyone receives their second dose of the vaccine, we don’t expect any slowing of our testing frequency.” This testing will not only help keep residents safe, it will monitor vaccine efficacy moving forward.

How can I help protect the elderly until the vaccine is widely available?

“Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools available,” according to the CDC. This means continuing to follow best practices moving forward.

  • Continue to practice social distancing and only engage in safe visits with elderly friends and loved ones.
  • Move as many activities as possible to well-ventilated, outdoor locations.
  • Practice appropriate sneeze and cough hygiene.
  • Encourage vaccine confidence by spreading safety information.
  • Get the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available to your demographic, whether you’re an essential worker, high-risk patient, or a low-risk adult.
  • Stay up-to-date with CDC and Argentum senior safety guidelines.

Additional resources on COVID-19 vaccines for seniors

A Place for Mom’s COVID-19 vaccine update page

Argentum’s Coronavirus Toolkit: Vaccine News and Resources

CVS Pharmacy’s vaccine information guide

Walgreens COVID-19 vaccine information guide

The World Health Organization’s vaccine guide

Claire Samuels

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