Slide showing weekly COVID-19 case rates for Oct. 3, 2021 to Dec. 5, 2021
Weekly COVID-19 case rates per vaccination status. Image credit, data source: CDC, National Healthcare Safety Network
Image of Rochelle Walensky, M.D.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D.; Image credit: Massachusetts General Hospital

Nursing home residents who have received booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines are 10 times less likely to contract the disease, according to new figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The news is a bit of cheer amidst other new evidence that COVID-19 infections are increasing among fully vaccinated long-term care residents. This uptick likely is due to the diminished efficacy of vaccine protection over time, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., said in a Wednesday briefing.

As analysts expected, the highest weekly COVID-19 case rates are among residents who are unvaccinated, she added. But residents who are vaccinated and have also received booster shots appear to be much less susceptible to infection than residents who have only received a primary vaccination series or are unvaccinated, she said.

“Taken together, these data emphasize the critical importance of boosters to optimize the protection of vaccines over time, and that when boosters are used, that protection works,” she concluded.

The findings are particularly noteworthy as the omicron variant spreads rapidly among the U.S. population, prompting fears of a double surge of cases along with those caused by the delta variant. Just over half (51%) of long-term care residents have received booster doses, according to the most recent data.

LTC booster clinics ramping up

Meanwhile, U.S. long-term care operators continue to work toward offering booster coverage for residents and staff. But the emergence of omicron may be a reason to speed up the process, David Gifford, M.D., chief medical director of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, told the Washington Post.

“We were on track to get pretty much everyone the booster shot, probably by sometime in early January,” he said. “I think we need to try to move that up and whether we can do that in short notice, that’s the challenge in our mind.”

Facility operators have been relying on their local pharmacy contacts to set up booster vaccine clinics. The CDC continues to match long-term care facilities with retail pharmacies to help in scheduling the clinics through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, Walensky said in the Wednesday briefing.

“Thousands of facilities have already been matched through CDC or by requesting support through their state health department,” she said.