The website said a quarter of nursing home residents have received the updated vaccine. Although the updated vaccine is voluntary for healthcare providers, the CDC recommends everyone over the age of 6 months get it.
Related: Nursing home rollout of new COVID-19 vaccine 'a mess'
Long-term care facilities are particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, so any outbreak could affect not only the facilities themselves but also the process of transferring patients to them from hospitals. Many nursing homes continue to struggle from the aftermath of the pandemic due to staff shortages and patient concerns over safety.
More than 3.5 million nursing home residents and staff have been infected with the virus and more than 169,000 have died from it since 2020, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Patient capacity at nursing homes was 82.3% according to the most recent survey by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care, still below its pre-pandemic rate of 89.1%.
Concerns about Covid-19 infections are escalating as cold weather forces more people indoors, increasing the risk of the virus spreading. The CDC said hospitalizations and deaths from the virus increased 9.7% and 8.3%, respectively, in the week ending Nov.19.
A COVID-19 outbreak prompted the New Jersey Health Department to suspend admissions last week at Limecrest Subacute and Rehabilitation Center in Andover. Since September, 66 residents and staff have been infected with the virus and seven residents died from it.
Rising COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths coupled with low vaccination rates among nursing home staff prompted criticism from patient advocacy group the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care.
“To get ahead of any future COVID-19 waves, you would think federal and state governments, along with the industry, would be taking active measures to make sure all workers and residents were boosted,” Sam Brooks, the group’s director of public policy, said in an email.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers, including those at long-term care facilities, were required to get vaccinated and nursing homes were given priority access to the vaccine. Residents and staff could get vaccinations at nursing homes through a public-private partnership between the CDC and retail pharmacy chains, including Walgreens and CVS. But that changed when the public health emergency ended last spring and the new vaccine was distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Walgreens has scheduled or completed approximately 400 vaccination clinics at long-term care clinics since September, according to a spokesperson. But some nursing homes have reported their long-term care pharmacies have been reluctant to schedule vaccination clinics if a number of staff members are unisured, according a spokesperson at LeadingAge which represents nonprofit aging service providers.
There continue to be other barriers to getting the vaccine into the arms of nursing home staff. The American Health Care Association, a trade group representing nursing homes, said vaccine misinformation, hesitancy and fatigue are among the problems it is trying to overcome.
“Long-term care providers are making every effort to encourage residents and staff to get vaccinated and we are confident we will continue to make progress in the face of the cold and flu season,” Dr. David Gifford, the association’s chief medical officer, said in an email.
Some states are taking action. Last week, the Oregon Health Authority launched an interactive data dashboard which tracks COVID-19 vaccination rates among staff and residents in Oregon’s long-term care facilities.
Licensed nursing homes, assisted living and residential care facilities in Oregon are required to report COVID-19 vaccination data to the state monthly. Oregon health officials think making the data public could improve vaccination rates as outbreaks of the virus continue to plague long-term care facilities across the state.
“I think seeing how your facility does compared to others motivates you to do a better job and do what you can to vaccinate your staff and residents by using all the tools that are available to do that,” said Dr. Dat Tran, medical director for Oregon Health Authority’s Healthcare-Associated Infections Program.