‘Flat-Out Resistant’ Staffers Imperil Nursing Home Vaccine Goal

June 22, 2021

An industry effort to vaccinate 75% of nursing home staff against Covid-19 by July 1 appears to be faltering as continued employee hesitancy, declining infection and death rates, and general pandemic fatigue are making it tough to sustain the urgency necessary to meet the lofty goal.

Only 1,133 nursing homes—less than 10% of the roughly 15,000 Medicaid- and Medicare-certified facilities—had reached or surpassed the 75% staff vaccination threshold by the end of May, new federal data shows. And only 50% of staff have been inoculated at nursing homes that have provided the recently required vaccination data.

“These preliminary results indicate that while we have made considerable progress in the past few months, we still have farther to go,” said a statement from the American Health Care Association, which launched the staff vaccination effort.

The underwhelming numbers thus far, help explain why more nursing homes are requiring employees to get vaccinated as increased summer travel and new Covid variants spark concerns about potential new outbreaks.

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak, accounting for nearly 184,000 deaths and more than 1.4 million infections as of May 10, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Infected staffers are believed to be the cause of much of the carnage.

In March, an unvaccinated employee in a Kentucky nursing home is believed to have spurred an outbreak involving a variant that killed three residents and infected 26 others along with 20 facility staff. Only four of the infected staffers were fully vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

“This is a race against variants at this point,” said Chris Laxton, executive director of AMDA—the Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine. “As each new variant comes online, our fear is that the vaccines will be less and less effective. So we really want to get as many of the staff as we possibly can to a place of being fully vaccinated.”

That won’t be easy, said Laxton, whose organization represents nursing home medical directors.