To battle low uptake of the latest COVID-19 omicron booster shots in the US’s nursing homes, the White House has announced that facility staff can now administer shots, a big win for many, said one of the nation’s leading caregiver lobbyists.

The declaration from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “is truly a positive step, and a demonstration of the good that results when government and providers collaborate to reach a shared goal: keeping older adults, professional caregivers and communities safe,” said Katie Smith Sloan, LeadingAge president and CEO, after Thursday’s announcement. 

“Although not all nursing homes have the ability to store vaccines and the staff needed to be designated as vaccinators, the change moves us in the right direction. This is an advocacy success.”

Smith vowed continued collaboration with and pressure on the CDC, the Department of Health & Human Services, and the White House “to remove challenges,” as outlined in providers’ All-Hands-On-Deck campaign proposal to increase booster uptake.

In November, LeadingAge and American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living sent Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra a set of solutions to boost vaccinations among long-term care residents as a tripledemic approached the country. 

Called the All Hands On Deck Campaign to Improve COVID-19 & Influenza Vaccination Rates Among Our Nation’s Elders, it listed as one of the challenges to uptake the government’s requirements for vaccine delivery:

“The bivalent vaccine must be administered by a registered vaccine provider for both the federal and state reporting requirements. Most LTC facilities rely on LTC pharmacies to deliver, administer and report. While LTC pharmacies can deliver influenza vaccine the same day as ordered, they can’t deliver the COVID-19 bivalent vaccine in the same manner, because they must administer the vaccine or subcontract the responsibility to another entity. This requires LTC providers to schedule clinics to administer the COVID19 bivalent vaccine, which can take weeks given pharmacist shortages or until the facility has enough residents to warrant the pharmacy to visit.”

As a result, All Hands on Deck proposed to “Waive the immunization, administration and reporting requirements for COVID bivalent vaccine in nursing homes and allow the LTC pharmacy to deliver the bivalent and SNF to administer the vaccine as they do with the influenza vaccine.”

Nearly 161,000 nursing home residents have died from COVID since the pandemic began, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Nursing home residents comprise about 15% of the more than 1 million deaths from the virus in the US since 2020.

While 86% of nursing home residents have completed their primary vaccination series, 47% of them and 22% of nursing home staff have received all of their recommended boosters, according to CMS data.