The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of multiple COVID-19 vaccines brings hope to many, especially those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia and their caregivers who have been critically impacted by the pandemic. Learn more about what you can expect once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to you.

About the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine

Several vials of the COVID-19 vaccine are lined up on a table.Who gets the vaccines first?

The Alzheimer’s Association strongly supports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation to prioritize front-line health workers and residents and staff of nursing homes, assisted living and other long-term care settings for receiving vaccines. The Association believes that vaccination must begin with our most vulnerable and where the threat is the greatest.

Vaccinating residents and staff in these settings is a critical first step to allowing residents to reunite with their families after months of separation, which often accelerated the decline of those with dementia.

Are the vaccines safe for people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias? 

Based on information from the FDA, the COVID-19 vaccines were tested in large clinical trials to make sure they meet safety standards. Many people were recruited to participate in these trials to see how the vaccines offer protection to people of different ages, races and ethnicities, as well as those with different medical conditions. If you are concerned about the safety of these vaccines, it is important to talk to your health care provider. 

How many doses do the vaccines require?

To be fully vaccinated, individuals will receive two doses over a period of 3-4 weeks. 

What are the potential side effects?

In clinical trials, side effects reported from the vaccines were mild and temporary, including fever and muscle pain. Symptoms reported typically went away on their own within a week. If your family member or friend living with dementia is vaccinated and severe side effects occur or persist for more than a week, contact their health care provider immediately.

Should people with severe allergies get vaccinated?

During the initial rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, there were isolated reports of adverse reactions for people with severe allergies. These complications were not life-threatening. If you have concerns about a loved one living with allergies, it is important to consult the person’s health care provider.

Who is actually giving the vaccine to the long-term care residents? Pharmacists from CVS/Walgreens? Or medical staff from the long-term care settings?

Each state is responsible for developing and administering a vaccine distribution plan. We recommend talking to your contact at the long-term care community — the administrator or director of nursing — about the specific vaccination plan.

COVID-19 vaccine information for people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia

A health care worker administers a COVID-19 vaccination to an older Black man who is wearing a mask.Should people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Vaccines are an important step in protecting the health and safety of long-term care residents and staff, and the Alzheimer's Association strongly encourages their use. It is important that individuals and families consult with health care providers about any questions related to an individual and the vaccine.

When will those living in a long-term care setting get the vaccine?

We know that health care workers and those living in long-term care communities like nursing homes and assisted living are the priority for the vaccine. Each state is responsible for developing and administering a vaccine distribution plan. We recommend talking to your contact at the long-term care community — the administrator or director of nursing — about the specific vaccination plan.

My family member or friend has dementia but doesn’t live in a long-term care setting. When will they have access to the vaccine and how will they get it?

At this time, the CDC recommends that front-line health workers and residents and staff in long-term care settings be the first groups to receive the vaccine. High-risk populations and individuals living with multiple diseases or medical conditions (including Alzheimer’s and other dementias) are expected to be in the second group of distribution. 

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My family member or friend is in long-term care, and I want/don’t want them to be vaccinated. What do I need to do?

It is important to ask your long-term care provider about the current availability and status of vaccine delivery. It is also important to discuss the risk and benefits with the resident’s health care provider. With this important information, discuss the choices regarding vaccines directly with their health care provider.  

What if the person living with dementia is unable to provide consent for vaccination?  

Consent for the coronavirus vaccine should be considered in the same manner as other vaccines and health care decisions. If a resident cannot consent, health care providers will talk to the individual’s dedicated power of attorney or other determined family member. 

What if someone elects not to take the vaccine? 

We believe vaccines are an important step in protecting the health and safety of long-term care residents and staff, and we strongly encourage their use. Forced vaccinations are extremely rare in any situation for any disease. If vaccines are not used, other protocols including PPE, rapid point of care testing and other safety measures must be implemented to ensure a secure and safe environment for visitation.

How can I be sure that staff at my loved one’s long-term care community are being vaccinated?

While vaccines are an important step to protect the health and safety of residents and staff in long-term care settings, vaccines are not currently mandated. If you have concerns, ask your provider about their staff vaccination policy. 

COVID-19 vaccine information for dementia caregivers

As a caregiver in close contact with the person living with dementia, should I get vaccinated even though I am not in the priority group?

Currently, the vaccine is only being given to high-risk groups, so you may not have the option to be vaccinated. However, we would encourage caregivers to get vaccinated as soon as they are able to do so.

Even with widespread vaccination on the horizon, it is important to consider the risks and take additional safety precautions for people living with dementia. Read the Alzheimer's Association dementia caregiver tips for promoting your loved one's safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether at home or in a residential care setting.

My loved one in long-term care has been vaccinated. Is it safe for me to visit? 

Visitation is appropriate when it is safe, and that determination of safety must ultimately be made by public health infectious disease experts.

The Association recognizes that ending social isolation and reuniting families is of the utmost importance and we now have the tools and resources to make this possible. We believe vaccinations are a very important step in protecting the health and safety of long-term care residents and staff. Even as vaccines are used, other protocols including PPE, rapid point of care testing and other safety measures must continue to be implemented to ensure a secure and safe environment for visitation.

For additional information on dementia care, read the Association's emergency preparedness tips for professional dementia caregivers.

Talk with a dementia expert now — Call 800.272.3900

Whether you have questions about a COVID-19 vaccine, Alzheimer's and dementia or anything in between, we're here to help. Call our free 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900 to connect with specialists and master's-level clinicians who offer confidential support and information to people living with the disease, caregivers, families and the public.

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