Closeup of clinician's hands getting vaccine dose ready
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Staff vaccination mandates for nursing home facilities are having their intended effect, protecting residents and staff from unnecessary illness and death, the results of a new analysis of federal data suggest.

Using public files representing 81% of U.S. facilities, investigators compared case rate and mortality outcomes between facilities with low and high staff vaccination coverage. Facilities were grouped according to county-level COVID-19 prevalence between June 13 and August 22, 2021. 

Many more nursing home residents became ill or died from COVID-19 in counties where staff vaccination rates were lowest when compared to counties with the highest rates — especially in COVID-19 hot spots, found the investigators, a team of public policy and long-term care experts.

In counties where COVID-19 prevalence was highest and staff vaccination rates lowest, resident deaths were 195% higher than they would have been if all the facilities had had high vaccination coverage, investigators estimated. Resident and staff case rates were similarly high in this comparison.

700 resident deaths prevented in two months

Estimates also revealed that if this large sample of U.S. nursing homes had averaged 83% staff vaccination coverage, at least 700 fewer residents would have died from COVID-19 over the two-month study period, reported study lead Brian E. McGarry, P.T., Ph.D., of the University of Rochester.

Brian McGarry, Ph.D.
Brian McGarry, Ph.D.; Image credit: University of Rochester Medical Center

What’s more, 4,775 cases among residents and 7,501 cases among staff could possibly have been prevented, he and his colleagues added.

“These findings show the extent to which staff vaccination protects nursing home residents, particularly in communities with high COVID-19 transmission,” they wrote.

Nursing home staff are thought to be a key source of COVID-19 transmission in nursing homes. In response to a surge of resident cases due to the delta variant this summer, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has required that long-term care staff be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4. 

Data for the new analysis was sourced mainly from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services COVID-19 Nursing Home Public File database. 

Results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.