Seniors get their COVID vaccine from the Mount Sinai South...

Seniors get their COVID vaccine from the Mount Sinai South Vaxxmobile in 2022. A CDC report said the vaccines are underutilized in nursing homes. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Just 41% of the nursing home residents in the United States have received the updated COVID-19 vaccine even though they are more likely to be infected by the illness than other people, according to a new analysis released Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In New York, 50% of nursing home residents were up to date on March 24, but that figure dropped to 41% as of April 14.

New York generally did better than the national average during the period studied by the CDC, which was between October and February.

Even as COVID-19 deaths have decreased, experts have said staying up to date with vaccinations are vital to avoiding serious illness and hospitalization. That is particularly true for elderly residents of nursing homes, which were devastated during the early days of the pandemic.

“Nursing home residents are at increased risk for contracting SARS-CoV-2 and developing severe disease compared with" older adults living in the community, the report said. “This finding indicates that an important prevention tool is being underutilized in this population.”

Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, a New York-based advocacy group, called these findings “the tip of the iceberg.”

“A lot of people have kind of pulled back from getting vaccines and pulled back from seeing this as a serious issue,” he said, referring to nursing home staff and, to a lesser extent, residents.

Nationally, approximately 1,000 nursing home residents died from COVID-19 each month between November and February, according to the AARP.

According to the CDC report, just 10% of national nursing home staff was up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations as of April 14. In New York, it was 13% for that same week.

Numbers are much higher for the primary series of COVID-19 shots. Data last updated in November show 87% of nursing home residents and 98% of staff on Long Island completed their initial vaccine series.

The CDC analysis also looked at weekly rates of COVID infections across more than 14,000 facilities nationally with roughly 1.2 million patients. For example, the infection rate was 133.8 per 10,000 nursing home residents for the week ending Dec. 3, 2023, and 61.4 for the week ending Feb. 11, 2024.

The highest weekly infection rate was found in the Midwest at 130.1 while the Northeast was 113.6. The report did not include rates by individual states.

Mollot said managing infections in nursing homes could be another reason for outbreaks.

“Poor infection control processes have been a huge issue in this field for a very long time,” he said.

While the infection rate in nursing homes was lower than in previous years, it is still a very vulnerable population, the report said. COVID-19-related hospitalizations among nursing home residents hit a peak of 7.1 per 10,000 residents in January, which is more than eight times the peak weekly rate of 0.87 per 10,000 among all U.S. adults 70 years of age or older, the report said. 

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