The vaccination efforts against COVID-19 that began in late December have begun to bear fruit in the form of steep declines of new COVID-19 cases and deaths among nursing home residents, one of the largest nursing home trade groups reported Tuesday.
And with new cases dropping by 82% among nursing home residents — who have been taking the COVID-19 vaccines at high rates — the attention of the American Health Care Association (AHCA) is focused on improving uptake rates among staff members, with some specific steps designed around this goal.
“We have been looking at why staff are not wanting to take it,” Dr. David Gifford, AHCA’s chief medical officer, said on aa Tuesday press call. “We’ve done a couple polls, we’ve been doing a number of town hall meetings, trying to help improve this.”
Those anecdotes received some official confirmation in a February 1 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which found out of 11,460 SNFs with at least one vaccination clinic held during the first month of the CDC’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, a median of 77.8% of residents took at least one dose. The median for staff members was 37.5%.
AHCA, which represents primarily for-profit nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and LeadingAge, the trade association for non-profit providers, announced a goal of vaccinating 75% of staff members across their facilities by June 30 through a series of targeted campaigns and events.
AHCA has been conducting surveys to compare members with high vaccination rates to those with lower ones, with the goal of identifying practices that work to get staff members to opt in — and the best ways of addressing hesitancy, Gifford said.
“We’ve all along had a #GetVaccinated campaign with a lot of material,” he explained. “We’re refining that material based on that input and what we’ve learned. We’re also trying to work with the CDC to understand which facilities have lower vaccination rates, so we can target our efforts and messaging and resources to them to reach that goal.”
The vaccinations appear to be having a dramatic effect on the number of new COVID-19 cases in nursing homes. Findings posted in early February from a research body affiliated with AHCA found that the first vaccine clinic of a scheduled three reduced cases among residents and staff by 48%.
With 97% of nursing homes now reporting they have complete4d their second vaccine clinic under the federal program — conducted primarily by retail pharmacy heavyweights CVS Health (NYSE: CVS) and Walgreens Boots Alliance (Nasdaq: WBA) — the effect is even more dramatic. The recent COVID-19 data from nursing homes collected by the CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) showed a decline in new COVID-19 cases among residents of 82% since December 20, according to AHCA.
Deaths related to COVID-19 in nursing homes have declined 63% since December 20, according to the data cited by AHCA, and as of February 7, cases have fallen to the lowest level since CMS began tracking weekly numbers in May 2020.
As the federal partnership program with its three initial vaccine clinics draws to a close, the government has set up three ways to maintain vaccine supply for nursing homes and assisted living facilities, Gifford said during the call.
“One is to use the existing long-term care pharmacies where they get their normal medications and flu shots every year,” he explained. “And the federal government would set aside some vaccine for them to order. We are looking forward for them to launch that program and get that going, especially as everyone winds down the third clinics.”
Several states are also working with long-term care pharmacies, taking some of the vaccines they receive from their federal allocation and making that available to nursing homes, which Gifford said was encouraging — while also creating a situation where nursing homes must continue to ensure they remain a priority as other clinics open.
Thirdly, some states are using a unique vaccine provider that orders, distributes, and administers vaccinations, Gifford said.
“We really are agnostic to any model,” he said during the press conference. “The real issue is to make sure that vaccine is getting into the arms of the staff and the residents that are there, as well as the visitors that are coming in, because that’s what’s necessary to keep those numbers low and continuing on the trajectory we are. That really is the light at the end of the tunnel.”