The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Secretary, Xavier Becerra, need to “do its part” to increase Covid vaccination rates among nursing home residents, starting with easing logistical issues that continue to be barriers to uptake.
That’s according to LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan, who also cited the benefits of enabling single-dose vaccine orders for nursing homes and making policy improvements that will allow pharmacies to bill Medicare Part B during a Part A stay.
Nursing home advocates also urged HHS to work with hospitals to encourage them to offer vaccines on discharge, along with direct communication between the agency, residents and their family members.
The recommendations come after nursing home associations, including LeadingAge and the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), met with the HHS on Wednesday to discuss vaccination rates among operators – and how the federal agency can help.
“It’s also vital the HHS recognize and acknowledge that nursing homes are part of the larger community,” Smith Sloan said in a statement. “When vaccination uptake rates are woefully low among the general public, it’s critical that public health officials educate the public more broadly — to the benefit of the entire nursing home sector and their surrounding communities.”
Nursing home resident vaccination coverage was “significantly higher” than the general population, but vaccination rates among the general population over the age of 65 was slightly higher than in nursing homes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency on Dec. 27 released two reports on vaccination coverage and treatment for respiratory viruses across the country.
As of Dec. 10, nursing home resident vaccination rates were 33.1% based on 97% of nursing homes reporting Covid vaccination rates. A Dec. 9 CDC survey found only 18.3% of the general adult population were vaccinated.
The study also found that uptake was higher in small nursing homes, while “socially vulnerable counties” saw the lowest vaccine uptake among nursing home residents. The CDC chalked up low uptake to vaccine fatigue, inaccurate health information, and vaccine hesitancy. Higher vaccination rates, meanwhile, were linked to trust building between medical directors and other providers.
Influenza vaccination rates were also higher among nursing home residents than the general population at 72% compared to 42.2% for the general population. RSV vaccination rates were lower however, at 9.8% for nursing home residents compared to 17% among the general population age 60 and older.
AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson said that while the Covid pandemic is much more manageable compared to the early days of the pandemic, members know it’s still a serious health risk for older adults, including those in long-term care.
“This must be made clear to older adults and their families: COVID is more deadly and causes more hospitalizations than the flu, but the vaccines help reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and death,” Parkinson said in an email to SNN. “We need a coordinated and consistent campaign from public health officials and every health care provider to convey this message and convince seniors to roll up their sleeves.”
Associations were grateful for the opportunity to meet with Secretary Becerra, Parkinson said, with the meeting showing a commitment from the agency to help operators overcome vaccine reluctance among residents and their families.
Smith Sloan said members share Becerra’s urgency around increasing nursing home vaccination rates – which has led to a continuing effort to offer vaccines and educate residents and their families on the benefits of vaccination.
Association members have vaccination rates more than 10% points higher than the national average, she added.
“Lifting up and learning from high performing nursing homes by sharing their best practices for driving uptake … will help the entire sector improve,” said Smith Sloan. “We look forward to elevating our members’ good work and lessons learned from their active engagement on this important public health matter.”