As the first round of coronavirus vaccines have been administered to those working and living in skilled nursing facilities, the majority of employees in these facilities did not receive the vaccine at distribution events, according to data released by the CDC on Monday.
According to the CDC, 37.5% of employees in skilled nursing facilities received the COVID-19 vaccine. By comparison, 77.8% of residents received the first round of the vaccine.
According to the CDC, 11,460 skilled nursing facilities in the US have had their first round of coronavirus vaccines. The residents and staff at these facilities are now in the midst of receiving the second dose of the vaccine.
The CDC acknowledged the data Monday had some limitations, noting that nursing home workers may have received vaccines at other clinics, or that they had scheduling conflicts when the vaccines were administered. Also, data was not available in some states.
But given the numbers, the CDC said it was “concerned” by the low numbers of skilled nursing home staff getting vaccines.
“Considering the high COVID-19–associated morbidity and mortality in SNFs (skilled nursing facilities) and, particularly, the risk for severe disease among SNF residents, vaccination of this population is a public health priority,” the CDC said. “However, the lower percentage of staff members vaccinated raises concern about low coverage among a population at high risk for occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that produces COVID-19).
A skilled nursing facility differs from assisted living homes as skilled nursing facilities offer more medical services whereas assisted living facilities are more residential in nature. While CVS and Walgreens among those being tasked with administering vaccines at both types of facilities, both chains prioritized skilled nursing facilities.
Nursing homes are of particular concern for public health officials as data suggest that one in three coronavirus deaths are tied to nursing homes.
Getting the 3 million residents and staff of nursing homes vaccinated nationwide has been a top priority for federal officials. Nursing home residents and staff have been among the first to receive one of two authorized coronavirus vaccines.
Given that vaccines have to be thawed and have a limited shelf life, there are questions on where unused vaccines are going.
“Any remaining doses from scheduled clinics are reallocated to the next scheduled clinic at a long-term care facility,” a Walgreens spokesperson said. “In the event that are remaining doses from a clinic that may potentially expire before the next scheduled clinic, those doses may be used to vaccinate Walgreens team members who are eligible to receive vaccines as part of the Phase 1a plan outlined by the CDC and states.”
A survey of nursing home workers in Indiana released last month indicated that concerns over side effects are the No. 1 reason why they would not opt to take the coronavirus vaccine.
The Indiana study, conducted by public health officials in addition to researchers from Indiana University, found that 45% of nursing home workers in the state would accept the vaccine when its first offered. Of those who said they wouldn’t accept the vaccine at first, 70% cited side effects as the primary reason for their declination.
Other health concerns, questions on the vaccines’ effectiveness and religious beliefs were other reasons given for not taking a vaccine.
There have been a few reported cases of those receiving the vaccine having mild to moderate side effects. FDA officials said that it’s possible the reactions were from the vaccine’s active ingredient polyethylene glycol. According to government information, the ingredient can cause known side effects such as bloating, diarrhea, nausea, cramps, gas and hives.
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living has been working to promote vaccinations among its 14,000 member nursing homes.
“Vaccination is the best tool we have had in the ongoing fight against this historic threat,” said Mark Parkinson, the president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL. “The faster we get people vaccinated, the more lives we can save. We believe this educational effort will help our residents and staff make informed decisions that will safeguard not only their own health, but also the communities where they live and work.”
Justin Boggs is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk.Follow him on Twitter @jjboggs or on Facebook.