Vaccination rates among nursing home staff have barely budged

CHARLOTTE — Thousands of workers across the Carolinas are now required to get the COVID-19 vaccine but many aren’t getting the shot, including those who work in nursing homes.

Since the mandate for nursing home workers was announced, vaccination rates have barely budged, and many facilities stand to lose funding because of it.

In North Carolina, nearly 70% of residents ages 18 and older have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot. That leaves a significant amount of people who have not, including those who take care of seniors.

Lauren Zingraff is the director of Friends of Residents in Long Term Care, an advocacy group for seniors. She said nursing home staff vaccination rates worry her.

“This is a matter of life and death,” Zingraff said. “I’m very concerned about the number being so low at this point.”

North Carolina’s low numbers have not shown much improvement since President Joe Biden rolled out his mandate in August.

According to AARP, in July 2021, 55% of nursing home staff in NC were fully vaccinated. Now, the number stands at 59%, only a 4% increase.

NC AARP’s Lisa Reigle was also concerned about the low rates.

“I don’t know if I’m surprised, I’m just saddened,” Reigle said. “I think it speaks to a bigger problem.”

Reigle said part of the issue is the state is still trying to figure out how to enforce the mandate.

“Part of the problem is if you push too hard,” Reigle said. “They need the workforce that’s there, and you’re right, it’s because that workforce can go elsewhere and get better benefits and better pay, have an easier job perhaps.”

Fortunately, in long-term care facilities, most residents have been vaccinated.

Federal statistics show that 82% have taken the shot, but with the delta variant, there are breakthrough cases.

One of those cases involved an 87-year-old woman.

“She was fully vaccinated, as was he, and an unvaccinated staff member came into the assisted living facility,” Zingraff said. “His wife got a breakthrough COVID infection with the delta variant, and that turned into COVID-infected pneumonia for his wife and tragically, she passed away.”

Zingraff said situations like that stress the importance of nursing home staff members getting the vaccine.

“We are literally talking about life and death for our long-term care residents,” Zingraff said. “While other people might think ‘I’ll get a breakthrough infection of the delta variant and I’ll be OK’ -- that is not how it’s going to impact our residents in long-term care.”

It’s not clear when the deadline will be for nursing home staff to get vaccinated. Those that depend heavily on Medicare or Medicaid funding could face consequences that seriously hurt the nursing home.

(WATCH BELOW: Nursing homes to offer booster shots to residents)