CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D.

Booster vaccines are reducing COVID-19 cases among nursing facility residents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But industry case counts have settled in at a steady high, and it remains unclear how many U.S. facilities have administered the shots, the New York Times reports.

Approximately 42% of Americans aged 65 years and older have received a booster dose, the Times reported. And it appears the shots are having their intended effect. Recent data reported to the National Healthcare Safety Network reveal that the COVID-19 case rate is “markedly lower” among nursing home residents who have received a third vaccine dose when compared to those vaccinated with two doses only, said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., in a recent press briefing.  

Despite this evidence of success, case counts have consistently hovered around 4,000 each week since October, according to the CDC’s COVID data tracker. And there is no nursing home booster data yet publicly available, the Times reported.

Boosters were needed in July

Considering the horrific mortality rate in nursing homes during the pandemic’s first year, the success of the initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout and evidence of waning vaccine efficacy, booster vaccines should have been authorized by July for this population, one expert told the Times. Instead, the first booster vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech’s) wasn’t authorized until September. 

In addition, the lack of a national strategy for getting booster shots to nursing home residents is putting them at risk, some experts concur. Most long-term care facility residents got their initial shots early in the rollout, which began in January. For some, it’s been 11 months since they were vaccinated.

“What’s been surprising is the lack of data and attention on nursing homes this time around,” said Ashish Jha, M.D., of the Brown University School of Public Health. “The data was clear at that point,” he told the Times. “We were seeing waning immunity, particularly in the elderly.”