Low vaccination rates among nursing home staff imperil elderly

Health spokesmen and industry groups are sounding the alarm about delayed vaccination rates in nursing home staff, threatening the nation’s progress in protecting vulnerable seniors.

More than seven months after being eligible, only about 59 percent of nursing home and long-term care staff nationwide are partially or fully vaccinated, according to federal data compiled by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The number of employees varies from state to state, but reflects the nationwide rate for fully vaccinated adults. However, the figures are significantly lower than the nationwide average vaccination rate – 81 percent – for nursing homes.

States like California and Vermont report close to 80 percent fully vaccinated staff.

Louisiana, meanwhile, has the lowest state average: Only 43.2 percent of employees at its long-term care facilities have been vaccinated, according to CMS data released last week.

In Florida, which has over 700 nursing homes, only 42 percent of workers are fully vaccinated.

Health experts are concerned that low vaccine intake among staff could leave residents vulnerable to a re-emergence of the virusdespite their relatively high vaccination rate.

“We know that the most important way that COVID enters nursing homes is through the staff who live in the community. And can be exposed to the virus in the community. And the fewer employees who are vaccinated, the greater the potential for a employee to become infected and … bring the virus into the nursing home, “ said Ari Houser, senior analyst at the AARP Public Policy Institute.

It has been shown that the approved vaccines greatly reduce serious illness and death in the elderly, but the rapid spread of the delta variant raises new concerns.

“In general, we know that elderly people who are weak often do not respond so robustly to vaccines. Many of these people live in nursing homes, and even if they are fully vaccinated, they have some degree of risk of a breakthrough infection if exposed. for the virus, “said Amesh Adalja, a senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Two industry trade groups set themselves the goal of vaccinating 75 percent of staff in their facilities by the end of June; an analysis released by AARP last week showed that only one in five of the country’s more than 15,000 nursing homes were able to accommodate it.

Nursing homes have been destroyed by COVID-19. Residents make up only approx. 1 percent of the U.S. population, however, accounts for more than 20 percent of all deaths nationwide.

According to Medicare data, the disease has killed more than 133,000 residents and nearly 2,000 employees. This is probably also a sub-number, as facilities only started reporting at the end of May 2020.

Industry groups are struggling to find ways to increase vaccination rates among staff, but are finding that misinformation is widespread.

“As with many members of the public and other health professionals, we believe that widespread misinformation circulating online and distrust of institutions are at the heart of many of the concerns that carers raise,” a spokesman for The American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living said in an email.

The trade group is running an education campaign for its members, urging providers to tackle specific concerns and dispel myths.

But sometimes the opposition is political.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the sharp political divide between vaccine-hesitants has become more prominent in recent months. Vaccination gap between counties that voted in the past President TrumpTrump pays tribute to Arizona Senate for revision at Phoenix rally, Arkansas governor states that ‘disappointing’ vaccinations have become ‘political’ Watch live: Trump attends demonstration in Phoenix MORE in the 2020 election, and those who voted for Biden have almost doubled in less than two months.

Conservative areas in the country have been particularly hard hit by the Delta tribe; White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff ZientsJeff Zients Orlando Sentinels editorial board asks Floridians to get vaccinated McConnell pushes vaccines but GOP confuses message Florida reports highest daily COVID-19 cases since January MORE Thursday said Texas, Missouri and Florida alone accounted for more than 40 percent of all new cases this week.

“People who work in qualified care facilities, they are members of the general population, they are members of their community, and they tend to reflect the perception and values ​​of their community,” said Peter Van Runkle, CEO of Ohio Health. Care Association.

“So if you have a rural state or a conservative area … you will see lower vaccination rates,” Van Runkle said.

Some experts are pushing for nursing home administrators to introduce a vaccine mandate as a condition of employment.

While some healthcare systems have made such a claim, the idea is controversial and far from an industry standard.

One roadblock is the fact that COVID-19 vaccines have not yet received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

But guidelines issued in May by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said employers are allowed to require workers to be vaccinated as long as there are religious and medical exceptions.

The bigger problem for companies is the threat of a staff uprising. Van Runkle said unless the entire industry requires vaccinations, mandates will not work piecemeal.

“As much as [facilities] “If people want to be vaccinated, they will not take that mandate step unless it is something that applies to everyone in the entire health care system,” Van Runkle said. If you are the only provider in town that has a mandate, guess where the staff is going there? To those who are not. It must be an all or nothing thing. “

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