COVID vaccine rates are ‘stagnant’ in NJ nursing homes, group says
As the Garden State loosens restrictions and scratches mandates related to COVID-19, AARP New Jersey says coronavirus data suggest nursing homes need to remain a focus of health and other officials in the Garden State, so there are no unnecessary deaths.
According to the New Jersey Department of Health, more than 9,500 residents and staff of long-term care facilities have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Nearly 6,000 of those individuals were residents of nursing homes, or about 19% of the total COVID death toll in New Jersey, according to AARP.
"We just know that as new variants are emerging, facilities can't let preventable problems be repeated, and the key is to increase vaccinations and boosters and do it now," said Katie York, associate state director of advocacy for the New Jersey chapter of AARP.
Nursing homes proved particularly vulnerable at the onset of the virus in New Jersey — that's when many of the deaths occurred. Critics have said that it’s because state policy required the return to nursing homes of infected patients released from hospitals, but the state said its directive required those residents to be housed separately.
Using data from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, AARP'S nursing home COVID-19 dashboard says the rate of resident cases fell from 2.26 cases per 100 in the four-week period ending June 19, to two cases per 100 in the four-week period ending July 17. The rate of staff cases edged up slightly between those two periods.
In New Jersey, according to the dashboard, 79.3% of nursing home residents have received their full series of COVID-19 vaccination and at least one booster dose. That's the 18th highest rate in the nation.
All workers in health care facilities such as nursing homes are required to be up to date with vaccinations, including a booster dose, in New Jersey. According to the dashboard, 82.1% of nursing home staff have hit that mark. That's the fifth highest rate among the states.
"We're seeing stagnation of vaccination," York said.
Andy Aronson, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of New Jersey, agrees with the notion that all residents and staff of nursing homes should be "vaccinated and boosted." But, he said, the current impact of COVID-19 on nursing homes is not nearly as dire as other groups may suggest, thanks to vaccination and targeted treatments.
Aronson recognized a surge of cases in nursing homes during the omicron threat, and in the early days of the pandemic in 2020.
"The reality is that people in nursing homes right now are safer than people in communities," Aronson said. "When there are COVID cases in the community, there's also going to be COVID cases in nursing homes. But what we have in nursing homes is constant monitoring of the residents, testing of the residents. Whenever somebody tests positive, they get treated, and by in large, the residents are doing very, very well."