Ruth Katz

At least one group of nursing homes has surpassed the 70% threshold when it comes to vaccinating staff.

LeadingAge officials unveiled that news about their member facilities Monday during a regular public coronavirus update conference call.

Nationally, 62.7% of all U.S. nursing home staff members were vaccinated, according to data submitted to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services through Aug. 29, 2021. Among LeadingAge members, however, that rate hit 70.92%, breaking the 70% barrier for the first time, according to the organization’s own analysis.

In addition, LeadingAge put the share of fully vaccinated residents at its member facilities at 91.52%.  

(An internal LeadingAge analysis calculated both the portion of staff and residents vaccinated slightly above figures appearing on the public CMS COVID-19 Nursing Home Data site Monday night. An explanation from the organization regarding the differing figures was not immediately available.)

“The lesson learned pretty early on is that our members could not rely on a single tactic or strategy, but rather, had to deploy many different approaches” to drive vaccine acceptance, explained Ruth Katz, senior vice president for policy for LeadingAge, in an email to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Monday. 

“Our members who mandated vaccines as a condition of employment universally report that they’ve not just issued a mandate and walked away,” she added. “They continued to build trust with employees, engage in one-on-one conversations with them, rely on peers and ‘in-house vaccine ambassadors,’ provide access for employees to solid information they can trust, and all the other activities they would be doing without a mandate.”

Vaccinations full steam ahead

Katz said she did not have data to determine whether the administration’s Aug. 18 announcement that it plans to mandate vaccines for all nursing home staff drove conversion rates up further or faster.

But, she added: “One thing’s for sure: Vaccines are a game-changer in the fight against COVID. And since they’ve become available, LeadingAge and our members have been vaccine supporters.”

The organization, which represents more than 5,000 nonprofit aging services providers nationally, teamed with the American Health Care Association and others early this year to set a goal of getting 75% of nursing home workers vaccinated by July 1. The effort fell short by more than 10 percentage points, however, mirroring the results of a national push to get 70% of the general population its first shot by July 4.

The LeadingAge Drive to 75 campaign to reach the 75% threshold continues in earnest, however, with regular resources, services and speakers being made available to members, officials said.

Other speakers on Monday’s COVID-19 conference call focused on increasing vaccination rates and procedures.

Robert M. Wachter, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at University of California-San Francisco cautioned that all nursing home residents should likely be viewed as immuno-suppressed. He encouraged widespread use of booster shots in the 60-plus population.

He noted that lowered efficacy of Pfizer and Moderna’s mRna vaccines likely is a result of both the delta variant’s wily nature and a six- to eight-month dip in vaccine-induced immunity. 

He also acknowledged that fully vaccinated individuals infected with the delta variant are prone to spreading it but added that research appears to show those individuals are still half as likely to transmit as people who are not vaccinated.