U.S. nursing homes that participate in the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs must require their workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday.
"More than 130,000 residents in nursing homes have sadly over the period of this virus passed away,” Biden said in a White House address. “At the same time, vaccination rates among nursing home staff significantly trail the rest of the country."
"These steps are all about keeping people out of harm's way,” he said.
Only 60 percent of nursing home workers were fully vaccinated as of mid-July, according to an AARP analysis of federal data, even though those workers were among the first in the country to be eligible for the shots last December. Meanwhile, about 82 percent of nursing home residents are fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates among staff at the state level vary significantly, from a low of 44 percent in Louisiana to a high of 87 percent in Hawaii, AARP's analysis shows.
AARP applauded the administration's decision to mandate staff vaccinations, after calling for the requirement last week. The announcement “is a significant step in the fight against this pandemic,” said Nancy A. LeaMond, AARP's executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer.
"As the new variants are emerging, facilities cannot let preventable problems be repeated,” she said. “Increasing vaccination rates in nursing homes is one of the most common sense and powerful actions we can take to protect the lives of vulnerable older adults."
Biden's announcement comes as the delta variant rapidly spreads across the country, driving up cases among nursing home residents from a recent low of 319 on June 27 to 2,696 on Aug. 8, with many of the outbreaks occurring in facilities with the lowest staff vaccination rates. About 30 percent of U.S. coronavirus fatalities have occurred in long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other senior care homes, even though less than one percent of the population lives in such facilities.
The move also comes as the government reviews a recommendation that all adults who received Pfizer or Moderna vaccines get a booster shot eight months after their second dose due to delta's newfound force and the growing evidence that the vaccines’ protection fades over time. The boosters could become available as early as Sept. 20 and nursing home residents and staff will be among the first in line.