Vaccinating some nursing home clients could prove problematic

COVID-19 visitation ban notice on the door of a Kohtla-Järve nursing home.
COVID-19 visitation ban notice on the door of a Kohtla-Järve nursing home. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

Estonian nursing homes are making preparations for the arrival of coronavirus vaccines. Getting next of kin to agree to vaccination could prove more problematic than logistical questions.

Nursing homes are preparing for the arrival of the first vaccines, while getting next of kin to agree to vaccination could prove more problematic than logistical questions.

If the initial quantities of the vaccine will be used to inoculate healthcare workers, the next round should bring the vaccine to nursing home residents and staff. Nursing homes launched preparations for immunization this week.

"Medical matters such as vaccination require the person's consent and if the person cannot provide consent themselves, it needs to come from next of kin," said Külli Friedemann, head of the Health Board's first contact services department.

Nursing homes started contacting patients' next of kin for consent this week. Friedemann said she does not believe residents would reject the vaccine or fear the shot.

"The most difficult aspect is residents' relationship with next of kin. It often happens that a person is put in a home and forgotten there," Friedemann said.

Jaanika Luus, head of the Iru Nursing Home on the edge of the Lasnamäe borough in Tallinn, hopes that they will manage to vaccinate 75-80 percent of the home's 300 residents, even though more people are apprehensive of the COVID-19 vaccine than are concerning flu vaccines. Around five percent of residents have refused to be vaccinated, while people are allowed to change their mind at any time.

"The situation is most delicate regarding people who are not under guardianship but have trouble understanding the world. Problems are created when residents and their next of kin who do not have guardianship disagree. One agrees to the vaccination and the other does not. That is when we become worried in terms of how to proceed," Luus said.

She said that the nursing home is under no obligation to consider next of kin's position. "But it is a moral dilemma when you know the person is not really competent anymore, while there is no guardianship and you want to refrain from violating anyone's rights," Luus explained.

Luus said that one of the nursing home's staff has decided not to get vaccinated. The home does not plan to dial back their duties even though it could add to the risk of the virus being brought to the nursing home. Luus hoped that perhaps they will change their mind.

The start of vaccination in nursing homes depends on how much vaccine will be made available to Estonia.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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