How soon will funeral home workers get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Washington-DC

"It’s a big undertaking, alright, but don’t forget the undertakers."

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WASHINGTON (WDVM) — Joyce Torchinsky, owner of the Torchinsky Hebrew Funeral Home in Northwest, says she served a record number of families in April and May of this year. “It was very, very hard at first to make the transition,” she said. “I know it was for me and I know it was for a lot of my colleagues and thank goodness we have each other to talk to.” 

The Centers for Disease Control recommends funeral home workers follow standard precautions when handling someone who died of COVID-19. 

“That’s not what we’re concerned with,” Torchinsky said. “We’re concerned with the family members who were around that person while they were living, while they were sick, while they were breathing. And when we go to funerals and their family members — although in much fewer numbers now — when we see those people we know for sure that they’ve been around those people who have passed away.” 

On December 1, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) provided “interim guidance to federal, state, and local jurisdictions on allocation of initial doses” and recommended that healthcare personnel (“paid and unpaid persons serving in health care settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients and infectious materials”) and residents of long-term care facilities get the first vaccines. This group is referred to as Phase 1a, and Torchinsky says funeral home workers are included.

But the CDC expects to run out of the COVID-19 vaccine during the first months of the national vaccination program and there’s no guarantee Torchinsky will get one before it runs out. 

As of December 1, approximately 250,000 healthcare workers had contracted the coronavirus and 858 had died. There are approximately 21 million healthcare workers who qualify for a vaccination. 

“We love what we do, otherwise we wouldn’t do it,” Torchinsky said, “and it takes a certain type of person to keep doing this when you know you’re walking into work and you’ve got positive Covid cases…people who have died.” 

WDVM reached out to the DC Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers for this story and did not hear back.

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