While nursing homes grapple with COVID-19, new variants and vaccinations, new evidence shows a correlation between staff vaccinations and resident infections. Skilled Nursing News reports nursing homes that had lower vaccination rates among staff also had twice the amount of COVID-19 positive residents and three times the number of resident COVID-19 deaths.
The New England Journal of Medicine studied the effects of COVID-19 in nursing homes and how they impact the residents residing there. David Grabowski, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School and one of the researchers in the study, stated “we estimate that if all facilities had staff vaccination rates in the highest category during this period, 4,775 resident COVID-19 cases and 703 resident deaths could have been prevented. In other words, our study strongly suggests that staff vaccination protects nursing home residents.”
From the beginning of the pandemic, nursing homes established strict policies including visiting bans, mask mandates and regular testing. However, national data collected between June and August by CMS indicates staff vaccination is also an important factor in controlling the spread.
Brian McGarry, one of the author’s of the study and professor at the University of Rochester, said “I think the findings were stark. We found that in the presence of high community spread, i.e. when there’s a lot of COVID circulating in the community, that those facilities that had low staff vaccination rates had substantially higher resident case rates, and probably not surprising, higher staff case rates.” The data implicated that lower staff vaccinations rates have “carryover effects” on the number of COVID resident deaths. McGarry also stated, “sometimes this comes up in the debate around vaccine mandates that the residents are protected, but why should I as a staff member have to be vaccinated, it’s my choice. I think what our results show is that it’s not just about getting the staff getting COVID.”
McGarry also commended nursing homes who mandated the vaccine themselves. He stated, “I think this really bolsters the case for doing a mandate and it’s frustrating that, at least at the federal level, that’s on hold for the time being. Time is of the essence here to get staff vaccinated to get those vaccination rates up as high as possible so that we can keep residents safe and protect them throughout these winter months when viral infections are usually at their peak.”