After a year of remarkable tragedy in nursing homes, a new analysis of federal COVID-19 data shows a significant drop in resident deaths in the weeks after vaccine clinics began — a trend made even more striking given the simultaneous spike in U.S. coronavirus deaths over the same span.
Weekly deaths in nursing homes fell 66% between the last week of December, when the federal government’s long-term care vaccination partnership with CVS and Walgreens ground into gear, and the first week of February, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
That decline still represents more than 2,000 fatalities, but it came as the nationwide death count — excluding nursing homes — spiked 61% to nearly 20,000 during the week ended February 7, prompting KFF to rhetorically ask if the end of the crisis in long-term care has finally come into view.
The analysis stopped short of definitively concluding that the vaccine clinics were the direct cause of the drop, noting that not every facility started the inoculation process on the same day, but the general association is clear.
“According to the CDC, there has been strong evidence that the vaccines prevent severe illness and death, and the sharp divergence in deaths inside and outside of LTCFs is consistent with that evidence,” KFF observed. “In addition, given the emerging research around the vaccines’ ability to prevent transmission of the virus, there is reason to believe that the vaccine may be playing a part in reducing virus transmission within nursing homes, contributing to the more rapid decline in new cases in nursing facility residents than in the overall population.”
Total case numbers in nursing homes dropped 83% in the post-clinic period, far outpacing the 45% dip among the general, non-LTC population.
“While cases have dropped both within and outside nursing facilities, new nursing facility resident cases peaked earlier (week ending December 20, 2020) as compared to in the general non-nursing facility resident population (week ending January 10, 2021) and declined at a faster rate in nursing facilities than outside nursing facilities,” KFF observed.
The most recent data marks a swift turnaround from record-high death counts seen in institutional care settings at the beginning of 2021: One in every 51 residents of nursing homes and other LTC facilities died during the four weeks bookending New Year’s Day, for a grim total of nearly 20,000, an AARP analysis found.
“While the record high death rate in the four weeks ending Jan. 17 represents only a slight increase from the previous month, when 1 in every 53 residents died from COVID-19, it is more than a quadrupling of the resident death rate at the end of the summer,” AARP noted in its analysis.
The gains also came amid continued concerns about relatively low uptake of vaccines among nursing home staff. Only 37.5% of workers elected to roll up their sleeves and take the shots during the first month of clinics, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) found, as compared with 77.8% of residents.