Image of nurse administering vaccine to patient's arm
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Deaths of nursing home patients from COVID-19 climbed as vaccination rates hit new lows last month, according to an updated analysis by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the Scripps Gerontology Center.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the analysis found that deaths over the four-week period ending Nov. 19 were more than four times higher than those recorded during a four-week period ending June 25.

About 1,000 residents died from the virus in the fall time frame, bringing the year-to-date total to roughly 9,000 residents, AARP reported. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 185,000 nursing home patients have died of COVID.

But vaccinations, at first widely embraced by residents and later mandated for healthcare workers, drove infection and deaths rates down dramatically starting in 2021.

The uptick in deaths last month, accompanied by a quadrupling of infections of both residents and staff compared to this summer, comes as vaccine coverage is way down compared to the last two winters.

But there is some reason for optimism. The AARP analysis reported about 25% of nursing home residents were considered up-to-date on COVID shots, though that figure was based on Nov. 19 reporting. As of Dec. 3, according to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services data, the resident up-to-date figure had climbed to 30.7%, with 7.2% of staff covered.

Resident deaths peaked at 338 the week ending Nov. 26, then fell back to about 260 per week for the first two weeks of December, according to a review of CDC data by McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Thursday. That’s still on pace to record another 1,000 deaths by year’s end, however.

Providers have continued to encourage vaccination, but in many states they reported early challenges with accessing shots, paying for them and getting enough for all of their people. More broadly, aging services providers said they are facing the same challenges public health officials are: a lack of interest in yet another round of vaccines.

“Long-term care providers are making every effort to encourage residents and staff to get vaccinated, and we are confident we will continue to make progress in the face of cold and flu season,” David Gifford, MD, chief medical officer at the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living told McKnight’s in late November.

“While nursing home residents are more than three times as likely to be up to date on their COVID vaccinations compared to the general public, nursing homes do not operate in a vacuum,” he added. “Unfortunately, we face the same challenges that we’re seeing across the US population at large: vaccine misinformation, hesitancy and fatigue. We need a collective approach to boost vaccine access and uptake, and AHCA/NCAL will continue to seek support of public health officials and the broader health care community.”

In November 2021, AARP reported, almost 90% of residents were vaccinated and roughly 40% had received a booster shot. Staff vaccinations had also hit the 80% mark just ahead of the Supreme Court approving a federal mandate. That mandate was ended along with the expiration of the public health emergency earlier this year.