COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are on the rise, posing a major threat to nursing home residents and staff who are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations.
- Less than half of all nursing home residents and less than a quarter of staff have received a bivalent booster shot, according to federal data. As the coldest months approach, the low vaccination rates foreshadow a difficult and potentially deadly winter.
- Hospitalizations have increased more than 25 percent in the past two weeks, primarily driven by older Americans and those with underlying health conditions.
Extreme heightened risk: Nursing home residents and staff are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 infection; one-fifth of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths have occurred among residents and staff in long-term care facilities, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The elderly population is also most at risk from other respiratory viruses like influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, which are seeing extremely high rates of transmission much earlier than in past years and straining hospitals across the country.
“The prospect of not being able to get into a hospital when you need it is scary,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president of LeadingAge, which represents nonprofit nursing homes. “We’re dealing with flu season colliding with the holidays, and it’s the perfect storm.”
The Biden administration recently launched a year-end sprint to improve lagging COVID-19 vaccination rates, with a focus on nursing facilities.
But experts and industry groups said the barriers nursing homes are facing have not changed since the first round of boosters last year, including pandemic fatigue, mixed messaging about the vaccine’s effectiveness and strict requirements about vaccine administration.