Less than 50% of nursing home residents, one of the country’s most vulnerable populations to severe illness from Covid-19, have received an omicron booster ahead of an expected wave of infection this winter.
The Biden administration has made increasing booster uptake among nursing home residents a central part of its strategy to prevent a major spike of hospitalizations and death this winter.
“We are working very closely with leadership of nursing homes across America, and we have asked them to step up to do more,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid taskforce leader, told reporters during a press briefing Thursday.
“And we are reaching out to governors where nursing home vaccination rates are low to offer personalized support,” Jha said.
The administration is working with nursing homes to make sure vaccines and treatments are available on site, Jha said. The federal government is also increasing the pool of staff that can administer vaccines at nursing homes.
The American Healthcare Association, which represents nursing homes, asked the Biden administration in November to waive certain restrictions that prevented facility staff from giving the shots to residents. The White House said on Thursday that nursing home staff can now administer the boosters.
Seniors, particularly nursing home residents, are the age group most vulnerable to severe disease and death from Covid.
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 represent about 15% of the more than 1 million people who have died from the virus in the U.S. since 2020.
While 86% of nursing home residents have completed their primary vaccination series, just 47% of residents have received all of their recommended boosters, according to CMS data. Only 22% of nursing home staff are up to date with their shots.
Jha has said most people who are dying from Covid right now are seniors who are not up to date on their vaccines and are not receiving treatments such as the antiviral Paxlovid when they have a breakthrough infection.
Covid cases in nursing homes increased 65% from 11,400 during the week ending Nov. 13 to 18,900 during the week ending Dec. 4, according data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cases dropped 11% in the subsequent week to 16,700, according to the data.
Covid deaths in nursing homes increased 25% from 256 during the week ending Nov. 20 to 321 for the week ending Dec. 11. That is dramatically lower than the pandemic peak of more than 6,000 nursing home deaths the week of Dec. 20, 2020.
Jha has repeatedly said virtually every Covid death is now preventable through vaccination and treatment.
“There are still too many older Americans who have not gotten their immunity updated who have not gotten themselves protected,” Jha said.
In addition to vaccines, anyone who tests positive for Covid should find out whether they are eligible for treatments such as the antiviral Paxlovid, Jha said.
“It’s very clear to me that anybody in their 60s or above should be treated,” he said. “There should be a good reason not to treat somebody and there’s rarely a good reason, meaning most people should be getting treated right now.”