COVID vaccination rates ‘alarmingly’ low among nursing home staff, CDC says: ‘A real danger’

COVID vaccination rates ‘alarmingly’ low among nursing home staff, CDC says: ‘A real danger’

Despite the higher risk that the coronavirus poses to older adults, a surprisingly low share of nursing home staff and residents are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations.

Only six states are indicating that over 10% of staff members are updated on their vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Overall updated vaccination rates are higher among residents — but still fall short of the CDC’s recommendations. Only three states have more than 50% of residents with a fully updated vaccination status.

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The CDC has been collecting weekly data on the health care workers’ vaccination status and residents’ vaccination status since May 30, 2022. The data comes from approximately 15,000 long-term care facilities (LTCFs) that report to the CDC’s LTCF COVID-19/Respiratory Pathogens Module.

Here’s how it breaks down.

Health care workers at nursing homes 

The states with the lowest share of health care personnel with up-to-date vaccinations are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina and West Virginia — all of which have only 2% compliance.

Despite the higher risk that the coronavirus poses to older adults, a surprisingly low share of nursing home staff and residents are up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccinations, according to the CDC. (iStock)

Georgia, Indiana, Washington, Ohio and Nebraska all have 3% of nursing home personnel with fully up-to-date vaccinations.

The only states that exceeded 10% vaccination rates for health care workers were New Mexico (19%), Alaska (13%), Vermont (13%), Hawaii (11%), Rhode Island (11%) and New Jersey (11%).

Residents at nursing homes 

The states with the lowest share of fully vaccinated residents included South Carolina (18%), Alabama (16%), Texas (15%), Arkansas (12%) and Arizona (10%).

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The states with the highest rates of up-to-date resident vaccinations were South Dakota (57%), North Dakota (55%), Vermont (55%), New Hampshire (47%) and Alaska (46%).

Risks of low vaccinations at nursing homes

“Nursing home patients are at a high risk for serious COVID infections, as they are kept close together, are elderly, and almost all have underlying health conditions,” Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, told Fox News Digital.

Nurse giving vaccine

“Nursing home patients are at a high risk for serious COVID infections, as they are kept close together, are elderly, and almost all have underlying health conditions,” said Dr. Marc Siegel of New York.  (iStock)

“While the staff may be low risk themselves, and though the COVID vaccine does not prevent spread, it does decrease viral load at least transiently, meaning the risk of transmitting COVID is lower, at least for a few months,” he added.

Another risk element is that if a staff member with COVID has symptoms and still comes to work, the chance of transmission is likely higher, said Siegel.

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“I feel that most if not all nursing home workers should have COVID boosters,” said Siegel, who called the numbers “shockingly low” and “the result of politics more than medicine.”

Dr. Sarah Park, medical director of medical affairs at Karius, a California biotech company, agreed that the lagging vaccination rates are “alarmingly low,” calling them a “critical cause for concern.”

Park told Fox News Digital the situation poses a “real danger” to the nursing home population.

“These staff members, with their increased susceptibility to and risk for infection from COVID-19, can inadvertently risk the lives of those in their care.”

“These staff members, with their increased susceptibility to and risk for infection from COVID-19, can inadvertently risk the lives of those in their care,” she said.

Nursing home residents are often immunocompromised, Park noted, which can increase their risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19.

“About 15% of people with COVID-19 develop serious complications, including COVID pneumonia,” she said. 

Potential reasons for vaccine reluctance

Several factors may contribute to the “concerning trend,” Park said, one of which is a “deep-rooted skepticism or resistance toward the vaccine among staff, who are younger and usually healthier than the population they serve.”

She added, “Some may harbor varying levels of distrust or concerns about vaccine safety, potential side effects or a belief in natural immunity over vaccinations.”

Nurse getting vaccine

“I feel that most if not all nursing home workers should have COVID boosters,” said one medical2 expert, who called the vaccination rates “shockingly low.” (iStock)

There are also distinct geographical trends in vaccination rates, which Park attributed to “political leanings and cultural attitudes.”

“Areas with higher skepticism toward government or science often exhibit lower vaccination rates,” she told Fox News Digital. 

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“Access issues can also play a major role, as economic barriers in regions with higher poverty and lower access to health care typically see lower vaccination rates,” she said.

Limited health care infrastructure or capacity can further hinder vaccine uptake, Park added. 

“The effectiveness and consistency of public health messaging can vary by region, affecting public perception and willingness to get vaccinated.”

What needs to change?

The “messaging has been poor,” said Siegel, when it comes to COVID vaccines and nursing homes.

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Park agreed, noting that there is a “notable shortfall” in effectively communicating the importance of vaccination. 

Nursing homes should ensure that vaccines are readily accessible through on-site clinics, flexible scheduling and mobile units to reach staff conveniently, said one expert.  

“More than just information, nursing home staff require persuasive, impactful communication that addresses their concerns and highlights the urgency of vaccination,” she said.

Elderly woman nursing home

Nursing home residents are often immunocompromised, said one health expert, which can increase their risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19. (iStock)

Park recommends using a multifaceted approach, including educational campaigns to “debunk myths” and combat “vaccine hesitancy.”

She also said nursing homes should ensure that vaccines are readily accessible through on-site clinics, flexible scheduling and mobile units to reach staff conveniently. 

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The CDC recommends that everyone 5 years of age and older get one dose of an updated COVID vaccine to protect against serious illness from the virus.

Fox News Digital reached out to the CDC for additional comment.

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.

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