Vaccine news comes at crucial time as North Texas nursing homes see COVID-19 surge

The news of vaccines being distributed to nursing homes within the next few weeks couldn't come soon enough.

New cases have been on the rise over the past month.

Dallas County is reporting its worst outbreak in long-term care facilities since the start of the pandemic.

According to Texas DSHS, those who work in hospitals, EMS, home health care and long-term care facilities are in the first phase to be able to get the vaccine.

The news gives some families hope, but they still have a lot of questions about how the vaccine will be distributed and who else will be able to get it first.

RELATEDHealth care personnel will be among first to receive COVID-19 vaccine in Texas, per Gov. Abbott

With rising case numbers and hospitalizations across North Texas, nursing homes and long-term care facilities are seeing similar surges.

According to Dallas County Health and Human Services, over the past 30 days there have been over 850 COVID-19 cases, including 304 staff members, reported among 84 separate long-term care facilities. It’s the highest number of active outbreaks in the county since the start of the pandemic.

Dallas County Clay Jenkins said Monday afternoon that healthcare workers could start being vaccinated as early as mid-December and nursing homes residents may get a vaccine towards the end of December.

For families who have loved ones in these facilities and who have had severely limited visitation for most of this year, a COVID-19 vaccine can’t come soon enough.

“I’m anxiously waiting for it. I think it’s phenomenal news,” said Genny Lutzel, whose mother lives in an assisted living facility. “That means one more tool is in the toolbox to control COVID in those facilities.”

But it’s not a cure all. There are still a lot of questions for families and facility residents.

“Will all people take that vaccine as a condition of employment? And will there be data to suggest when a certain population is vaccinated that there is no longer a threat to carry it into a facility like my mom’s?” wondered Lutzel.

With new guidance from the state, staff at long-term facilities would be among the first groups to get a covid-19 vaccine. Some family members are hopeful facilities could possibly open up visitation as more people get vaccinated.

“I see it giving us some peace of mind and maybe indirectly helping visitation in that facilities might be more inclined to follow some of the guidelines if indeed they feel more comfortable,” said Mary Nichols with Texas Caregivers for Compromise.

Hospital staff, EMS and home health care workers, along with outpatient medical staff, community pharmacies and school nurses are also included in the first phase.

But many families are still waiting for more information on how this could affect their loved ones directly.

“How long before long term care residents will be included in one of these tiers and when they are included in one of these tiers, will they help open up visitation for some of these residents?” Nichols asked.

Some families are still cautious of any vaccine that comes onto the market.

“I would be concerned about timing, side effects, and how to control if a staff member is too sick because of a side effect to come in,” Lutzel said. “How that’s all coordinated. Just a lot of questions.”

More details on the vaccine distribution plan are expected to be released as they become available. But a spokesperson for DSHS says the vaccine will be strictly voluntary and not-required of anyone.