Only 38 percent of all U.S. nursing home residents and 15 percent of all direct care staff had received a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Nov. 21, according to an AARP analysis of new federal data. Booster rates have ticked up somewhat since then, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reported that 52 percent of fully vaccinated residents and 23 percent of fully vaccinated staff had received a booster as of Dec. 5.
While the CDC’s rates are more current, they only include fully vaccinated residents and staff in their counts, negating the roughly 12 percent of residents and 22 percent of workers who remain unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. AARP’s rates consider all residents and staff, regardless of vaccination status.
The relatively low uptake after months of booster availability, combined with the rising number of U.S. COVID-19 cases, is leaving nursing home experts and resident advocates worried that facilities are highly vulnerable to yet another resurgence of the virus.
Some 200,000 residents and staff of U.S. long-term care facilities have already died from COVID-19, accounting for around a quarter of the country’s total COVID fatalities. Nursing homes were first in line for COVID-19 vaccinations after they were authorized late last year. A federal partnership sent teams into long-term care facilities for free on-site vaccinations. There’s no such program for boosters, leaving many individual facilities responsible.
Check the vaccination rates of your nursing home
You can now find vaccination rates of both residents and staff at any Medicare-certified nursing home and compare it with state and national averages on Medicare.gov’s Care Compare website.
- Find a nursing home’s profile via the home page’s search function
- Visit the “Details” section of its profile
- Click the “View COVID-19 Vaccination Rates” button
White House COVID-19 data director Cyrus Shahpar wrote on Twitter on Dec. 9 that he estimates that nearly 60 percent of nursing home residents due for a booster had received one. “We’re seeing strong progress,” he wrote, adding that “we expect nursing home booster numbers to continue to rise in the days ahead.”
But AARP's Susan Reinhard, coauthor of the new COVID-19 analysis, which relies on data reported to the federal government by nursing homes, says current booster rates are “shocking” and “not good enough.” “These shots have been available for months, and residents in particular have been eligible for these shots for months,” says Reinhard, senior vice president and director of the AARP Public Policy Institute.
“We have this preventive tool, but we’re failing to use it,” she adds. “And in the meantime, our elders are sitting in these high-risk congregate settings, just waiting for another onslaught of this virus, rather powerless in stopping it.”
Studies show that the COVID-19 boosters are highly effective against the coronavirus, including the delta variant. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced Wednesday that Moderna and Pfizer boosters are likely to offer a substantial increase in protection against the new and highly transmissible omicron variant.