Alzheimer’s and COVID Vaccines: Your Questions Answered

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate headlines and daily life, the approval of several vaccines has provided the world with hope. Here we answer several key questions around COVID vaccines for people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, their loved ones, and those who care for them.

Are the vaccines safe? How do they work?
Two vaccines have been approved for use in the United States and Canada, manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, respectively. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is also being distributed in the UK, and one developed by University of Oxford and AstraZeneca will soon also be available. All require two shots received several weeks apart.

These vaccines have undergone rigorous testing for both efficacy and safety. As with any vaccine, some side effects are possible; these are mostly mild, but caregivers should be ready to see the patient experience headache, body aches, or low-grade fever. Serious reactions are extremely rare and the risk of experiencing an adverse reaction is far less than of falling ill from the novel coronavirus.

When discussing a vaccine for someone with dementia with your health provider, always make sure to include information about their condition and any medications or allergies.

When will my loved one and I qualify for the COVID vaccine?
In the United States, the CDC has issued recommendations to prioritize health care workers and people living in long-term care facilities, followed by those 75 and over and other essential workers. In the UK and Europe, similar age brackets are being created. As most people with late-onset Alzheimer’s begin to show symptoms in their mid-60s, it is likely that most people with dementia and their spouses or siblings will be in higher priority groups.

What complicates the rollout is that each state is coordinating vaccine distribution according to its own plan. The best way to is by visiting your state’s official health department website or by speaking with your primary physician.

Are home-based Alzheimer’s caregivers given priority?
Not at this time in the U.S. Many home health aide services are advocating with local and state governments to add home caregivers to the prioritized groups. To add your voice, speak with the service you employ or call your governor’s office. (The UK is laying out some provisions for family caregivers.)

How much will it cost me?
In the U.S, while the vaccine itself is free, providers may charge a fee for their services. Check with your insurance to see if any such fee will be covered. All costs are covered for those with Medicaid or Medicare. In the UK, the NHS will cover costs and the Canadian government will do so for all its citizens.

I’m so frustrated by caregiving during the pandemic. What can we do in the meantime?
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is both rewarding and incredibly tiring in the best of times. The COVID-9 pandemic has added new elements to caregivers’ roles, including helping a patient wear a mask, encouraging more frequent hand washing, and the loss of social interactions. It’s important to know that you are doing your best and that you’re not alone.

Reach out to friends and family along with local religious, community or Alzheimer’s groups as you’re able for support around picking up groceries or prescriptions or just to find someone to talk with. If the news or social media is overwhelming, log off and spend a few minutes reading, listening to music, or going for a walk.

Our Alzheimer’s Caregiver guide offers medically based, practical tips for person-based daily care, including managing behaviors such as asking questions repeatedly or physically reacting to help with personal hygiene. Self-care for caregivers is also critical: See our tips for managing caregiver stress.

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