I got a board game for Christmas. It’s called The Worst Case Scenario, and requires the players to pull a  card describing situations from discomfort to disaster and rate them from best to worst. Then you have to guess how the other players would rate them. Some of the situations are horrifying, some are funny. 

  • Live with a really slow internet connection 
  • Have the same name as a famous killer 
  • Wake up to find tarantulas in your bed
  • Have severely chapped lips
  • Fall into the lion exhibit at the zoo

You get it. 

As I was playing the game with some kids and adults, I realized that my “worst-case scenario” didn’t make the cut. The kids were concerned about nightmares and cannibals, the adults were worried about nuclear holocausts and sinkholes. I was waiting for “Have the ability to prevent death, but powerless to  use it.” We are at the beginning of the “tripledemic,” and the general indifference is mystifying. 

Do you hear people talk about COVID-19 like it’s in the past? “Well, that was during COVID. I don’t need  a mask now.” The Public Health Emergency continues until January 11, 2023, and will likely be extended another 90 days. In Ohio, the number of new reported COVID cases has been increasing every week by  7%. Just under 3,000 Americans died of COVID-19 in December 2022. Sure, we’re tired of COVID; but  COVID isn’t tired of us. 

The means of preventing death from COVID is vaccination. But a new study shows that stagnation in vaccination rates is not only causing new cases and variants to proliferate, but it is also directly related to resident outcomes in skilled nursing facilities. A 10% increase in staff vaccinations would decrease the infection and death rates in SNFs across the U.S. This tiny increase in staff compliance with vaccination would result in 16 fewer deaths per 1,000 residents and 21,000 fewer staff infections nationwide. 

The bivalent shot, specifically formulated for the Omicron variants, has been largely ignored by the general populace but inexplicably also by SNF staff and residents. In the absence of a mandate,  only 22% of SNF staff have complied.  

The bivalent vaccine became available in September 2022. The fact that so few have opted to receive the vaccine indicates that the seriousness of the situation is lost on some of us. The bivalent vaccine may not prevent all infections, but studies show that the vaccinated have mild symptoms, don’t need hospitalization, and don’t die. 

Knowing what we know anecdotally, but also as a result of researched evidence, the up-to-date boosters have to be at the top of our New Year’s Resolutions. CMS needs to strengthen its vaccine mandate. If you knew you had the means to prevent unnecessary suffering, astronomical medical expense and death, you would break down walls to do it. We have the means, and although viruses and infections are likely to always be with us, we can minimize the effects by doing the right thing. 

Tell your staff how their vaccination status affects their residents. Tell your staff how their vaccination status affects their loved ones. Tell your staff that the best means of protecting the ones they love and the ones they take care of is to protect themselves.

Jean Wendland Porter, PT, CCI, WCC, CKTP, CDP, TWD, is the regional director of therapy operations at Diversified Health Partners in Ohio.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.