EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to include comment from the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living.
LeadingAge joined a list of at least 56 other professional healthcare groups that came out Monday morning in favor of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all healthcare workers.
The coordinated announcement was meant to capture the attention of the American public at a time when COVID infections are rising in every state.
It is sure to meet resistance from dissenters, as the country remains firmly divided with a significant minority of citizens and professionals hesitant or adamantly against receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, all of which are still authorized only under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) status by federal authorities.
Signatories to the vaccine-mandate declaration include the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) and the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurses Society (WOCN), as well as a host of physician, nursing and other groups.
The American Health Care Association, the nation’s largest association for nursing home operators, said it is not taking part in the coalition announcement at this time.
“For now, we continue to focus on educational efforts to increase vaccine confidence,” an AHCA spokeswoman told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News in an email.
The coalition of associations and healthcare professionals groups, however, said it views vaccination as a medical ethical imperative backed up by overwhelmingly large statistical evidence of their safety and efficacy.
“We call for all healthcare and long-term care employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” the joint statement declared.
“This is the logical fulfillment of the ethical commitment of all healthcare workers to put patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities first and take all steps necessary to ensure their health and well-being,” the statement continued.
The endorsement of a vaccination mandate is seen as a bold move, especially in long-term care, where critics say ongoing staffing shortages would be exacerbated if nurses and other workers decide to quit or stay away from work rather than become vaccinated. Recent reports show just 59% of the national nursing home workforce has received one or more vaccine shots, with the resident population sitting at 20 to 30 percentage points higher on average.
Roughly 35% of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths have been associated with long-term care settings, making them the single-most vulnerable place for infection and/or death since the pandemic was declared in March 2020.
LTC in spotlight
LeadingAge made the case for vaccine mandates more directly in its own statement directly to its members and public Monday morning.
It noted that nursing home staff vaccination rates vary widely across the country, with a national rate of 61.51%, according to Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services figures.
LeadingAge highlighted that the most recent CMS statistics (as of July 11) showed 67% of its members’ staff had been vaccinated while 81.7% of its residents had been.
LeadingAge and AHCA had jointly issued a challenge to its member groups to achieve 75% staff vaccination rates by June 30.
Other associations that have made similar calls for mandatory vaccination include AMDA–The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, which was among seven professional organizations representing long-term care and other clinical specialists that earlier this month released evidence-based recommendations that COVID-19 vaccinations should be mandatory for U.S. long-term care and other healthcare workers. The American Hospital Association last week also came out in favor of mandatory employee vaccinations.
The vast array of groups calling for the vaccination mandate Monday represent millions of workers throughout the healthcare spectrum. They are headed by the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association, including home care and hospice workers, as well as pharmacists, physician assistants, public health workers and epidemiologists.
“As COVID-19 variants emerge and proliferate, it’s critical that we protect everyone who lives and works in long-term care, by ensuring staff are fully vaccinated,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of Leading Age. “Throughout the pandemic, long-term care providers have demonstrated their dedication, commitment and bravery in the face of unprecedented, challenging circumstances. They must heed the scientific evidence and do everything possible to deliver safe, quality care to the older adults and others they serve.”
A growing list of long-term care providers have recently declared their own company-wide mandates in recent weeks. Most have reported strong increases among staff cooperation, but never without staff losses as well.
Most recently, last week Sanford Health announced it would start enforcing a mandate among thousands of employees of its Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society starting Nov. 1. Good Sam, with 158 skilled nursing and 233 senior living communities, is one of the largest senior care providers to have enacted a mandate so far.
Carol Silver Elliott, chair of the LeadingAge Board of Directors, announced an employee mandate for her own community in May. At the time, she called the Jewish Family Home’s decision “another significant step towards ensuring the health of our elders, our staff and our community.”
The coalition said in its statement that even as progress is being made toward taking the EUA label off of vaccines, workers should “get vaccinated for their own health, and to protect their colleagues, families, residents of long-term care facilities and patients.
“This is especially necessary to protect those who are vulnerable, including unvaccinated children and the
immunocompromised,” the statement continued. “Indeed, this is why many health care and long-term care organizations already require vaccinations for influenza, hepatitis B, and pertussis.”
A former White House advisor, Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D., vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, organized Monday’s statement.
“Healthcare workers have an ethical duty to put patients’ health and well-being first, and getting vaccinated for COVID-19 is integral to that duty,” Ezekiel said in the groups’ statement. “Employer vaccine mandates are effective and lifesaving, and they are especially appropriate in healthcare and long-term care settings. No patient should have to worry that they could become infected by one of their care providers, and no provider should put their patient at risk.”
“It is critical that all people in the health care workforce get vaccinated against COVID-19 for the safety of our patients and our colleagues,” said Susan R. Bailey, M.D., immediate past president of the American Medical Association, in the coalition’s joint statement. “With more than 300 million doses administered in the United States and nearly 4 billion doses administered worldwide, we know that the vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19. Increased vaccinations amongst health care personnel will not only reduce the spread of COVID-19, but also reduce the harmful toll this virus is taking within the health care work force and those we are striving to serve.”
The groups signing Monday’s joint statement (listed alphabetically):
Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy
American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Nursing
American Academy of Ophthalmology
American Academy of PAs
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Association of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
American Association of Clinical Endocrinology
American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy
American Association of Neuroscience Nurses
American College of Clinical Pharmacy
American College of Physicians
American College of Preventive Medicine
American College of Surgeons
American Epilepsy Society
American Medical Association
American Nursing Association
American Pharmacists Association
American Psychiatric Association
American Public Health Association
American Society for Clinical Pathology
American Society for Radiation Oncology
American Society of Health-System Pharmacists
American Society of Hematology
American Society of Nephrology
American Thoracic Society
Association for Clinical Oncology
Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology
Association of Academic Health Centers
Association of American Medical Colleges
Association of Rehabilitation Nurses
Council of Medical Specialty Societies
HIV Medicine Association
Infectious Diseases Society of America
National Association of Indian Nurses of America
National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners
National Council of State Boards of Nursing
National Hispanic Medical Association
National League for Nursing
National Medical Association
National Pharmaceutical Association
Nurses Who Vaccinate
Organization for Associate Degree Nursing
Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society
Philippine Nurses Association of America, Inc.
Society of Gynecologic Oncology
Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America
Society of Hospital Medicine
Society of Interventional Radiology
Texas Nurses Association
The John A. Hartford Foundation
Transcultural Nursing Society
Virgin Islands State Nurses Association
Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurses Society
Please check back for updates to this developing story.