Why is California's most vulnerable population not up-to-date on COVID vaccinations?

More than 200,000 nursing home residents have died during the pandemic - a number that is believed to be severely undercounted.

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Saturday, December 31, 2022
Why is CA's most vulnerable not up-to-date on COVID vaccinations?
CDC data shows only 49% of nursing home residents are up-to-date on their vaccinations in California, as of late Dec.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As the country battles yet another COVID winter surge, health care providers are left wondering why less than 50% of California's nursing home residents aren't up-to-date on their vaccinations.

"Many of us feels like no one cares," said Dr. Mike Wasserman, a nationally recognized geriatrician who formerly sat on the state's vaccine advisory committee. "What we've been suggesting is literally a reset on the approach, we literally have to start from the beginning."

CDC data shows only 49% of nursing home residents are up-to-date on their vaccinations in California, as of late Dec. It's even worse among nursing home staff - only 36% are up-to-date. ABC7's data analysis found the rates among both groups started to trend down this week, while deaths continue rising.

"We know that many introductions to these infections into these skilled nursing facilities do come from staff and people who are out and about in the community," said Dr. Abraar Karan, a Stanford infectious disease physician.

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A new study published in the JAMA Network Thursday researched thousands of nursing homes across the country and found just a 10% increase in vaccinations can significantly reduce infections and deaths among residents and staff. This comes as the CDC released new data Friday showing the latest COVID booster targeting the omicron variant is 80% effective in preventing hospitalizations among people 65 and older.

"The suggestion of this paper is that with a small marginal increase in vaccination rates, the secondary effects can be huge and we know that's true," Dr. Karan said.

A University of Chicago professor Tamara Konetzka estimates the results of this findings would mean 20,000 fewer nursing home residents would die each year.

"Every time I see deaths go up, I'm reminded as a society, we really haven't stepped up," said Wasserman.

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President Biden committed to bringing reform and improvement to the nursing home industry during his State of the Union address. But critics argue actual policy changes haven't become a priority under his administration. For example, the White House waived restrictions to allow nursing home staff to administer booster shots just last week.

"That's been a problem from the beginning," Wasserman said. "The federal government didn't set up a system using existing distribution modalities."

In November, the American Healthcare Association asked the Biden Administration to waive restrictions that prevented nursing staff from administering shots to residents. Despite having the COVID-19 vaccine accessible for years, that protocol was only recently enforced.

More than 200,000 nursing home residents have died since the onset of the pandemic, according to data from the CDC. A number that health officials believe is severely undercounted. Wasserman says if vaccination rates don't increase, nursing homes will continue to suffer.

"We will continue to see greater than normal deaths and hospitalization," he said. "We don't have the luxury of time."

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