Six residents in Indiana nursing homes have been vaccinated against COVID, but only half of the staff has been vaccinated.

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6 Vaccinated Indiana Nursing Home Residents Get COVID, Less Than Half of Staff Inoculated.

The Associated Press reported that six completely vaccinated residents at an Indiana nursing home contracted COVID-19, despite the fact that less than half of the staff had been inoculated against the virus.

COVID-19 claimed the lives of seven people in Howard County, including one who was fully vaccinated, according to Howard County Health Officer Dr. Emily Backer. The five other completely vaccinated inmates were among 11 individuals who contracted COVID-19 at the facility during an outbreak that began in mid-June, according to officials. According to Backer, 44% of the personnel is fully vaccinated.

She said the staff’s vaccination rate was “lower than we’d like. But at this point, they can’t force them.”

According to Medicare, roughly 59 percent of nursing home employees in the United States are immunized against COVID-19, compared to 80 percent of residents.

Lagging vaccination rates among nursing home staff are being linked to a national increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths at senior facilities in July, and are at the center of a federal investigation in a hard-hit Colorado location where disease detectives found many workers were not inoculated.

The CDC’s assessment of facilities in the Grand Junction, Colorado, area has raised fears among public health specialists that advances in protecting vulnerable elderly with vaccines may be jeopardized when the more aggressive delta variety spreads across the country.

The percentage of nursing care employees who have had their vaccinations is about the same as the overall percentage of fully immunized persons. Vaccination rates in some states are as low as 40 percent.

Some policy experts are asking the government to close the gap by requiring nursing home employees to get immunizations, which the Biden administration has been hesitant to implement. Nursing home operators are concerned that such a move will backfire, leading to many personnel with vaccine reservations quitting their positions.

To be sure, the vast majority of fully vaccinated people who become infected with the delta variant suffer only mild symptoms.

But “older adults may not respond fully to the vaccine and there’s enormous risk of someone coming in with the virus,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Vaccinating workers in nursing homes is a national emergency because the delta variant is a threat even to those already vaccinated,” he said.

CDC investigated Delta variant outbreaks in elder care facilities in Mesa County, Colorado, in May and June. The area is a coronavirus hotspot. The agency said it is assisting states and counties across the nation as part of the White House COVID-19 “surge teams.”

Nationally, data collected by CDC show that deaths and confirmed infections among nursing home staff have dropped significantly since vaccinations began in January. But the number of deaths among staff reported in July has risen again, sparking new concerns.

At a Grand Junction-area nursing facility, 16 fully vaccinated residents were infected and four of them died, according to a CDC slide obtained by the AP. The residents who died were described as being in hospice care, with an average age of 93, suggesting they were particularly frail.

The CDC has not made the results of its investigation public, but said it plans to publish the findings in an upcoming Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The slide was shared with the AP by a person involved in internal deliberations who requested anonymity because they did not have permission to release the data.

Of the 16 fully vaccinated residents infected at the memory care facility, CDC found that 13 developed symptoms, most of which were described as mild.

The CDC investigated several nursing homes in Mesa County where new outbreaks were occurring. At one site – described as “Facility A” – 42 percent of staff had not yet been fully vaccinated, compared to only about 8 percent of residents who had not completed their vaccinations.

CDC found a COVID-19 infection rate of 30 percent among vaccinated residents and facility staff, with residents accounting for the vast majority of cases.

Throughout the pandemic, people in long-term care facilities have borne a disproportionate burden of suffering and death, not to mention increased isolation due to closures. Nursing home residents are estimated to make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population, but they account for about 22 percent of COVID-19 deaths-more than 133,400 people who lost their lives.

Experts generally agree that staff are one of the main triggers for outbreaks in nursing homes, as staff can unknowingly introduce the virus from the environment before they develop symptoms.

With the advent of vaccines and aggressive efforts to immunize residents, cases and deaths plummeted and nursing homes were able to lift closures. But COVID-19 has not yet been eradicated. In the week ending July 4, 410 residents statewide had become ill and 146 had died.

Colorado is not the only state experiencing outbreaks in nursing homes, as much of the staff remains unvaccinated.

Backer said she’s concerned about continued opposition to vaccination, fueled by exaggerated claims of side effects. Some experts worry that hard-won progress in curbing outbreaks in nursing homes could be lost, at least in some communities.

Laura Gelezunas has firsthand experience with an outbreak case in a nursing home.

After numerous calls and emails to her mother’s nursing home in Missouri and corporate headquarters in Tennessee, Gelezunas finally received confirmation that her mother’s constipation, headaches and sore throat were symptoms of COVID-19.

However, Gelezunas said the facility was not transparent about how her vaccinated mother, Joann, became ill. While the home has pointed out outside visitors, Gelezunas said the only visitors to her mother were her brother and his wife, both of whom are vaccinated. Gelezunas believes it was an unvaccinated staff member, but the home has yet to provide her answers.

Gelezunas asked that her mother only deal with vaccinated staff, but the home’s management said it can’t make any promises because of privacy concerns and its inability to mandate vaccinations for staff.

“My mother is bedridden. I have people who take care of her intimately, and you’re telling me you can’t tell me that at $7,500 a month, my mother can’t have someone who is vaccinated and takes care of her,” said Gelezunas, who lives in Mexico.

Joann told her daughter that between 12 and 15 residents were infected with the virus recently, which she found out from one of her aides.

When it comes to requiring vaccinations, one obstacle is that COVID-19 vaccines aren’t yet fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and are being administered under emergency authorization.

“What we need to do is get past the emergency use basis, to have (vaccination) be a standard of care,” said Terry Fulmer, president of the John A. Hartford Foundation, a nonprofit working to improve care for older adults.

Highlighting the potential vulnerability, government numbers show a wide disparity among states in nursing home vaccinations. Vermont has fully vaccinated 95% of its nursing home residents, but in Nevada the figure is 61 percent. Hawaii is the leader for staff vaccinations, with 84 percent completely vaccinated. But in Louisiana, it’s half that, 42 percent.

Harvard health care policy professor David Grabowski said he believes trust is the core question for many nursing home staffers who remain unvaccinated. Low-wage workers may not have much confidence in vaccine messaging from management at their facilities.

“I think some of this mirrors what we see in the overall population, but among health care workers it is really disconcerting,” Grabowski said.

Indiana county health official Backer blames swirling misinformation.

“There’s a lot of really bad information out there that’s completely untrue,” she said. “It’s really sad because I think we have the power to end this with vaccination. Nobody else needs to die from this.”

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