In an effort to entice more nursing home employees to get vaccinated, the state Department of Public Health will allow them to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the third round of vaccinations at long-term care facilities.
While more than 90 percent of nursing home residents received shots during the first two rounds of vaccinations by CVS and Walgreens personnel, the rate of employees who’ve been vaccinated has been much lower. The third round is underway this week at some facilities.
The state hasn’t reported overall vaccination numbers from nursing homes, but officials believe 50% to 60% of the state’s more than 25,000 nursing home employees have now been vaccinated. Those numbers are an improvement from the first round, when some providers said 40% or less of their workers got vaccinated.
During a weekly conference call with nursing home providers this week, DPH officials told them that employees can get their first doses at the third clinic as long as they get the second dose offsite.
The hope is that more employees will get vaccinated if given another opportunity. Several providers have said that they have emphasized getting vaccines to their employees but think they decided to wait to see if the first groups had any issues before committing.
The state hasn’t released a plan for how nursing homes can vaccinate newer residents who moved into a facility after vaccinators made their second-round visits.
Many facilities have short-term rehabilitation units with people moving in and out between visits from vaccinators. During the first two rounds, residents who were vaccinated and left were able to return to the facility for their second doses, but that option will not be available this time.
More than 91,000 vaccinations have been administered in the state’s long-term care facilities. More than 28,000 residents and staff have received both doses of the vaccine.
Deaths down again
The large-scale vaccinations of nursing home residents has led to a marked decrease in the number of infections in the facilities — and lately a decrease in deaths as well.
For the week of Jan. 27- Feb. 2, there were 101 new infections among nursing residents and 35 deaths. Both totals are the lowest in months, since the state has been mired in a long second wave of the virus.
Last week, the state recorded 166 new cases and 66 deaths among nursing home residents. When vaccinations started in late December, the state was averaging over 100 deaths a week.
There were only four facilities that recorded multiple deaths this week, and two — the Mansfield Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation and the Masonicare facility in Wallingford — recorded four each.
Cases also have been decreasing among nursing home staff.
This week, there were 87 new infections. Last week, there were 153.
State officials and providers believe the declining numbers are evidence the vaccine is effective.
“We are far enough into the nursing home vaccination program that clearly there is significant benefit that is starting to come through,” state Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe said during Gov. Ned Lamont’s Thursday press conference.
“I do think we started to see a trending down before that point, though, so I think there is shared causality between both the hard work of our nursing homes staffs and the team at DPH, all the work in infection control, but now as we are well beyond two weeks after — certainly many got their first doses, and many have gotten their second dose as well — clearly there is protection coming from vaccines at this point.”
The virus has had a devastating impact on nursing home residents. The state has had nearly 3,900 deaths since March. The long-term care deaths have accounted for almost 70% of the state’s total COVID-related deaths.
The third round of vaccinations has already started in some facilities, even as others wrap up their second rounds of shots. Officials expect to finish administering all of the vaccinations in long-term care settings, which also includes assisted living facilities, by the end of February.