Less than half of nursing home staffers across 15 states have been fully vaccinated despite the disproportionate level of harm that COVID-19 imposes on seniors, a trend that elder care advocates fear could put the most vulnerable populations at risk.
Long-term care facilities such as nursing homes in 15 states, including Mississippi, Wyoming, Alabama, and Louisiana, have fully vaccinated about 48% or fewer staffers over the past few months, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“It’s a concern on so many levels. One is the health of residents, and we, of course, want staff to be healthy as well. But they tend to be younger, and it's a more dire situation for elderly people with underlying conditions,” said Richard Mollot, the executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, an advocacy group for seniors in assisted living.
Several states with the lowest vaccination rates among nursing home staff have the lowest vaccination rates overall, a spokesperson at LeadingAge, an elder care advocacy organization, told the Washington Examiner.
Indeed, those 15 states with low vaccination rates among staffers have fully vaccinated less than 45% of their residents. For instance, Mississippi has the second-lowest rate of fully vaccinated care facility staff at roughly 42%. The state also has the lowest vaccination rate in the entire country, with less than 30% of the population having been fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, Louisiana has the lowest vaccination rate among nursing home staff at less than 41%. The state also ranks sixth in lowest vaccination rates in the overall population, according to tracking by Bloomberg.
Some nursing homes and assisted living facilities have made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for their employees in order to work, citing the devastation caused by the pandemic in resident populations. Nearly 184,000 residents of care facilities have died due to COVID-19, while more than 1.4 million have been infected, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Every single caregiver has a unique perspective and reason for getting or not getting the vaccine, so we have been encouraging providers to have direct conversations with employees and address their specific concerns head-on,” a spokesperson for the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living told the Washington Examiner.
More than 75% of seniors have been fully vaccinated, according to tracking by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, the incidence of the disease declined the most for those aged 65 and older, thanks to the early sprint in the vaccination campaign to reach seniors. Cases fell 79% from December to May, emergency room visits fell 77%, and deaths fell 84% among seniors.
Outbreaks among staff also disadvantage vaccinated seniors who cannot receive visits from loved ones due to the concern that infections in the facilities could spread to residents' guests.
“That impacts the family members that we speak to,” Mollot said. “When there's a case, even if it's a case of a staff member, and then he or she is out, that can impact the ability to visit residents.”
The Biden administration has increased efforts to boost vaccination rates nationwide with new perks to incentivize people to get the shots, such as free child care services for parents. Biden set a goal to get 70% of all adults in the U.S. at least one shot by July 4. To date, about 66% of all adults over 18 have received a shot, the CDC reported. The administration will have to sprint to meet its self-imposed deadline with just over a week remaining.
The standards for vaccinations in long-term care facilities should “aim much higher” than Biden’s national threshold, Mollot said.
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Original Author: Cassidy Morrison