Public health doctors are concerned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's investigation into facilities in Grand Junction, Colorado raises questions about whether the success of vaccines protecting elderly people could be at risk as the more aggressive variant spreads.
According to Medicare, 59% of nursing home staff received their shots nationally. This is about the same percentage as the total number of adults who have been fully vaccinated. However, it's significantly lower than the 80% who have been vaccinated. Some states also have lower vaccination rates, with some states having as low as 40%.
Some experts in policy are calling for the government to close this gap by mandating that nursing home staffers receive shots. This is a directive the Biden administration has resisted issuing. Many staff with vaccine concerns fear that such a move will backfire and cause them to quit their jobs.
The majority of people infected by the delta variant are fully vaccinated and only experience mild symptoms.
However, "older adults might not respond fully to vaccine and there is a huge risk of someone coming into with the virus," Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice-dean of public health practice at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said.
He stated that "vaccinating workers in nursing homes is an urgent national emergency, because the delta variant of the disease is a threat to everyone,"
In May and June, the CDC investigated delta variant outbreaks at elder care facilities in Mesa County in Colorado. This area is a hot spot for coronavirus. According to the White House's COVID-19 "surge team", the agency is providing assistance to the affected counties and states.
Data from the CDC shows that there have been fewer deaths and confirmed infections in nursing homes since January, when vaccinations were implemented. However, the number of deaths among staff members in July has started to rise, raising new concerns.
According to a slide from the CDC that was provided to The Associated Press, 16 residents infected at a memory care facility in Grand Junction were fully vaccinated and four of them died. According to a slide provided by The Associated Press, the residents who died were in hospice care with a median of 93 years, which indicates that they were especially frail.
Although the CDC has not made public the findings of its investigation, it stated that they plan to publish them in a forthcoming Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. A person involved in internal deliberations shared the slide with the AP. They requested anonymity as they didn't have permission to release it.
The CDC discovered that 13 of the 16 residents who were fully vaccinated contracted the disease at the memory care facility. These symptoms are usually mild.
The CDC investigated multiple nursing homes in Mesa County, which were suffering from new outbreaks. One facility, called "Facility A", had 42% staff who were not fully vaccinated. This contrasts with the 8% of residents who failed to get their shots.
The CDC reported a 30% COVID-19 infection rate among vaccinated staff and residents at the facility. Residents account for the majority of cases.
People in long-term care facilities suffered adisproportionate amount of suffering and death during the pandemic. They also experienced increased isolation from lockdowns. About 1% of Americans live in nursing homes, yet they are responsible for 22% of COVID-19 death -- more than 133,000.
Experts agree that nursing home outbreaks are often caused by staff. Workers may bring the virus into the facility from the community, and then develop symptoms.
The arrival of vaccines and a determined effort to immunize residents saw a drop in deaths and cases. Nursing homes were freed from lockdown. COVID-19 is not gone. There were 410 people who had been sickened in the country and 146 who have died as of the week ended July 4.
As a large percentage of employees remain unvaccinated, Colorado is not the only state experiencing nursing home epidemics.
According to Dr. Emily Backer, a Howard County health officer, seven people died in Indiana from COVID-19. This was at a facility where only 44% of the staff were fully vaccinated. Officials believe the outbreak began in June and that eleven additional people were also vaccinated.
Backer said that one of the victims was fully vaccinated and that five other residents had tested positive. She did not identify the facility.
Backer admitted that the 44% vaccination rate for staff at the facility was "lower" than they would like.
She added that they can't force them at this point.
Backer stated that she is troubled by her continued resistance to vaccinations, which is fuelled by exaggerated claims of side effects. Experts fear that the hard-won progress made in reducing nursing home outbreaks may be lost, at most in certain communities.
Laura Gelezunas had firsthand experience with a groundbreaking case in a nursing facility.
Gelezunas received confirmation that her mother's symptoms of COVID-19, including a headache, congestion, and headache, after numerous phone calls to the Missouri nursing home and Tennessee headquarters.
Gelezunas claimed that the facility was not transparent about Joann's illness. Gelezunas stated that her mother has only been visited by her brother and his wife who are both vaccinated. Gelezunas believes that it was unvaccinated staff, but she has not received any answers from the home.
Gelezunas requested that her mother only interact with vaccinated workers. However, the directors refused to make any promises due to privacy concerns and inability of workers to be inoculated.
My mom is sick. "My mom is bedridden. I had people take her in and you are telling me that $7,500 per month doesn't cover the cost of someone taking care of my mom," Gelezunas, who resides in Mexico, said.
Joann informed her daughter that 12 to 15 residents had been infected recently. She learned this from an aide.
One obstacle to vaccinations is that COVID-19 vaccines have not been fully approved by Food and Drug Administration. They are currently being administered under emergency authorization.
Terry Fulmer, president and CEO of John A. Hartford Foundation, said, "What we have to do is get beyond the emergency use basis, in order to have (vaccination), be a standard for care." Fulmer is a non-profit working to improve the care of older adults.
The potential vulnerability is highlighted by the wide variation in vaccination rates for nursing home residents across states, according to government statistics. While Vermont has fully vaccinated 95%, Nevada only 61%. Hawaii leads the way in staff vaccinations with 84% of its residents fully vaccinated. Louisiana is half as high, with 42%.
David Grabowski, a Harvard professor of health policy, said trust is the key question for many nursing home workers who are not vaccinated. Low-wage workers might not trust the management of their facilities when it comes to vaccine messaging.
Grabowski stated that while some of the findings are similar to what we see in general population, it is disconcerting for health care workers.
Backer, a county health official in Indiana, blames misinformation.
She stated that there is a lot of false information and bad advice out there. It's really disappointing because it is something we can do to stop this epidemic with vaccines. This is a terrible situation that should not be allowed to continue.