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Nursing aides most likely to interact with long-term care residents are the industry's least likely workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that suggests low staff vaccination rates could lead to outbreaks, even in facilities where most residents have been inoculated.
CDC researchers looked at data from 300 U.S. facilities and found that just 45.6 percent of long-term care nursing aides were vaccinated against COVID-19 — compared with 56.7 percent of nurses, 75.1 percent of physicians and advanced practice providers, and 56.8 percent of all staff. The data are from March and early April, but a more recent AARP analysis of vaccination rates submitted to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) shows a similar trend. Just 45 percent of aides, assistants and technicians were vaccinated by the week ending July 4, compared with 54 percent of all health care workers in facilities that reported vaccination rates by staff job type.
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Experts have expressed alarm that staff vaccination rates are so low, especially among a group of workers who regularly interact with residents.
"I am very concerned about the low staff vaccination rates and believe they are associated with the recent [nursing home] outbreaks we are seeing across the country,” says Charlene Harrington, a nursing home researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. “You would hope for rates of 80 to 90 percent for staff and residents.”
The CDC report notes several demographic trends, with vaccination rates lower at facilities in areas with lower median income, higher poverty and larger concentrations of racial and ethnic minorities. It also points out that nursing aides are “disproportionately women and members of racial and ethnic minority groups, with median hourly wages of $13 to $15 per hour.” Separate research suggests that vaccine acceptance varies along demographic lines, with vaccination rates lower among lower-income adults and racial and ethnic minorities.
The report goes on to suggest that low staff vaccination rates are potentially dangerous even in facilities where most residents have been vaccinated. Vaccines are not foolproof shields against COVID-19, particularly for older adults. People 65 and older have accounted for nearly 3 in 4 breakthrough infections documented by the CDC that were fatal or required hospitalization.