The best strategy to protect nursing home residents from variants of COVID-19, including the highly transmissible Delta variant, is through staff vaccination, according to an infectious disease expert. 

“Vaccination is the only way to get good protection,” said Ghinwa Dumyati, M.D., an infectious disease physician and professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. 

Ghinwa Dumyati, M.D.

“We know from our experience with influenza vaccinations that nursing homes and assisted living communities with higher vaccination rates had fewer outbreaks,” she said.” If you want to protect residents, trying to get staff vaccinated is the best way. Of course, it is also important to vaccinate residents.” 

Her comments came while speaking Wednesday during a LeadingAge COVID-19 conference call. Dumyati said that it’s key for providers to talk to workers who are hesitant and find out why they have yet to be vaccinated — but also to consider mandates.

“There are many reasons why people are hesitant to receive the vaccine, and we need to address all of them,” she said. “Misinformation, difficulty of access, lack of paid time off if they have side effects, and many other reasons may be barriers which we need to understand and address. But, certainly the Delta variant adds greater urgency.” 

There is growing concern among executives with drugmaker Pfizer about the COVID Delta variant and its own data that shows immunity against the disease declines among vaccinated people over time, specifically in the elderly.

The Delta variant has accounted for about 57% of all COVID cases in the United States with most infections occurring in people who are unvaccinated, according to Dumyati. The strain is highly transmissible, about twice as easily spread as the initial B.1.1.7 or U.K. variant that caused much concern in the U.S. early this year.

Dumyati noted that data shows vaccinated people have good protection against the Delta strain and are at a much lower risk of contracting, being hospitalized or dying from the disease.