Health workers in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are not vaccinated to the same extent as the seniors they care for — and the workers who interact with residents the most are the least likely to get their injections.
According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 46 percent of assistants in these facilities are vaccinated, compared to 75 percent of physicians.
Staff working in facilities in areas with higher poverty, primary education and other socioeconomic vulnerabilities are also less likely to be vaccinated, the report finds.
Researchers say additional help is needed to build trust among these health professionals and promote vaccination – to protect vulnerable patients.
Vaccination mandates in these facilities, such as those recently introduced for government employees across the country, may be another option to protect staff and patients.
While 75 percent of doctors working in long-term care facilities are vaccinated, only 46 percent for assistants, according to a CDC analysis
The long-term care workers who had the most direct contact with patients were the least likely to be vaccinated. Pictured: Nursing home residents wait for their injections at a nursing home in Harlem, New York
Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been the sites of deadly outbreaks during the pandemic.
About a third of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths occurred at these facilities as of March 2021.
In nursing homes alone, nearly one in ten residents died of Covid, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
As a result of this devastating loss, both residents and staff of long-term care facilities were top priorities during the US vaccination campaign.
A partnership between the federal government and major pharmacy chains allowed residents and staff to get vaccinated directly at their facilities last winter.
The majority of long-term care residents used the program, leading to a huge drop in cases at these facilities.
However, many health workers in the facilities were less willing to get vaccinated, leaving themselves and their patients vulnerable to Covid.
A new CDC study found low vaccination rates among long-term care facility staff, with the lowest rates among those who had the most direct contact with the patient.
CDC researchers used weekly vaccination reports submitted by 300 institutions nationwide between March 1 and April 4, 2021.
The analysis was published on Friday in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
In all, about 22,800 health workers out of 40,200 in total were fully vaccinated, the researchers found. That is a percentage of 56.8 percent.
At that time, in early April, about 53 percent of U.S. seniors between the ages of 65 and 74 and 57 percent of those over 75 had been fully vaccinated.
Overall, about 57 percent of long-term care workers had been vaccinated, but the percentages varied by occupation. Pictured: Vaccinations at a nursing home in Ramat Gan, Israel
Physicians and other health professionals in advanced positions had the highest vaccination rate at 75.1 percent.
Other occupational groups had lower rates. Therapists had a 69.2 percent vaccination rate, service workers had a 58.5 percent rate, and nurses had a 56.7 percent rate.
Of the assistants — nurse assistants, medication assistants and other similar positions — only 45.6 percent had been fully vaccinated by early April.
Caregivers are the largest group of health professionals in long-term care facilities and usually have the most direct contact with patients.
“One concern is that nurses and assistants in this sample, who have the most contact with patients, had the lowest vaccination coverage,” the CDC researchers wrote.
“COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in facilities where residents were highly vaccinated, but transmission was through unvaccinated employees.”
The researchers noted that assistants are also more likely to have underlying conditions that put them at high risk for severe Covid, compared to other occupational groups.
Among assistants, vaccination rates were lower in zip codes with more poverty, lower education, and other socioeconomic disadvantages.
For example, assistants in zip codes with larger racial and ethnic minorities had an overall vaccination rate of 43.5 percent compared with a rate of 50.5 percent for lower minority populations.
In higher poverty zip codes, the vaccination rate was 42.4 percent compared to 49.2 percent for poorer areas.
And in zip codes with lower high school completion rates, vaccination rates were 42.2 percent compared to 49.3 percent for higher-educated areas.
“Together, these data suggest that vaccination differences between job categories likely reflect social inequalities in general, as well as inequalities in surrounding communities,” the researchers wrote.
These inequalities occurred despite the fact that long-term care assistants were able to get vaccinated in their workplaces. They avoided the challenges of traveling and leaving work for a recording, which were barriers to entry in other environments.
The team says more education and training is needed to improve this vaccination coverage and protect vulnerable seniors in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
“These findings suggest that vaccination promotion and outreach efforts targeting socially vulnerable and marginalized groups and communities could help address inequalities,” the researchers wrote.
Vaccination mandates for long-term care workers may be helpful, the researchers added, as these requirements have pushed up vaccination coverage during flu shot campaigns.