Nursing Home Staffs Lag Behind Patient Vaccinations, CDC Reports

New data from the CDC shows low rates of staffer vaccinations in the first month of distribution in facilities that have become hotspots for Covid-19 outbreaks. 

A pharmacist gives a Covid-19 vaccine at an assisted living community in Vero Beach, Fla., on Jan. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

(CN) — Nursing home workers have been getting Covid-19 vaccines at strikingly lower rates than the patients they tend to, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

While 78% of residents in long-term care facilities have received at least one shot, the figure among staff members is just 37.5%, even though the health care workers were included in the first-round priority for vaccination. 

The CDC report pulls data from 11,460 skilled nursing facilities between mid-December and mid-January. Both residents and staff members at such facilities are at a particular increased risk for becoming infected by the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, because of the advanced age and frequent chronic underlying health conditions of residents. 

As a result, skilled nursing facilities have seen multiple outbreaks of the disease over the course of the pandemic, making vaccine distribution an important part of preventing further spread of Covid-19. 

“The lower percentage of staff members vaccinated raises concern about low coverage among a population at high risk for occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2,” the CDC report states.  

Similar patterns have shown up in distributing the flu vaccine. During the 2017-2018 influenza season, vaccination coverage among staff in long-term care facilities was lower than that among other health care workers. 

Survey data has suggested that hesitancy to get flu or Covid-19 vaccines could be tied to perceptions about vaccine effectiveness as well as the risk of disease transmission. In a survey of long-term care facility staff members from last November, the CDC reports, 45% of respondents were willing to receive a Covid-19 vaccine immediately, and an additional 24% said they would consider it in the future. 

By comparison to the general public, a Pew survey from December found that 60% of people definitely or probably will get a vaccine for Covid-19, up from 51% in September. 

According to the CDC, inadequate information plays a role in hesitancy, as does skepticism surrounding clinical trials and the vaccine approval process. 

The agency and doctors have said that fighting misinformation, which can contribute to hesitancy, is important for making sure as many vaccine doses are administered as possible. 

Dr. Robert Hopkins, who chairs the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Vaccine Advisory Committee, said it’s crucial to partner with well-respected community members in order to drive home the severity of the pandemic and necessity of vaccination.

“One-on-one engagement with those that are hesitant to be vaccinated, by trusted local voices, can be absolutely critical,” Hopkins said in an interview last month.

His team holds small group meetings, for instance, which last about 30 minutes and give patients a chance to talk through concerns. The meetings have been “tremendously effective in getting people vaccinated,” according to Hopkins.

“Personal touch makes a big difference,” he said.

The CDC said it will continue to gather data on vaccine hesitancy, and encouraged better communications resources “developed to increase vaccine confidence among [long-term care facility] staff members.” 

Addressing structural barriers like scheduled work shifts, and paid medical leave for possible post-vaccination side effects, should also be encouraged, the CDC said.

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