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Report: Half of Alabama nursing home staff vaccinated for COVID-19

Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 2:45 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Residents of Alabama’s nursing homes are being cared for by many staff members who have not been vaccinated for COVID-19. As of mid-August, only about half of nursing home employees, or 51.6%, have taken steps to get vaccines according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

“If you look at the statistics, we’re always ahead of Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi each week when those statistics come out,” said John Matson, Alabama Nursing Home Association spokesman. “And so that lets us know that the educational efforts we’ve done related to the vaccine have been effective.”

While still higher than the state’s last-in-the-nation overall ranking in which just 31% of citizens fully vaccinated, nursing homes carry particular concern since the elderly make up one of the largest at-risk populations for COVID-19.

While 81% of nursing home residents have been vaccinated, the number of “breakthrough” cases, or cases in which a vaccinated person tests positive, continues to rise. The rate remains considerably lower than among those who are unvaccinated, however.

The low staff vaccination rates are concerning for organizations like AARP, which contends Alabama must look at the situation and it must be “addressed without delay.”

“The nursing home industry itself set a goal for all nursing homes to achieve at least 75% vaccination rate,” said Jamie Harding, with AARP Alabama.

According to Harding, only 16 nursing homes have achieved that goal.

The Alabama Nursing Home Association has pushed back saying when it comes to aid during the pandemic, the AARP hasn’t offered any assistance. The association added that it’s one thing to point out numbers and another to actually work in nursing homes during a pandemic.

“When we were in the very early stages of the pandemic, and we needed testing, and PPP, and we’re publicly calling for that we never heard from AARP,” said Matson. “When the vaccine rollout was happening, and we were doing everything to encourage staff, vaccinations and providing a lot of education, we never heard from AARP.”

Despite just one in two staffers having been vaccinated, there are currently no vaccine requirements for nursing home staff or residents in Alabama, something AARP Alabama suggests should change.

“We think at this point it’s going to take a requirement to be vaccinated,” said Harding. “Some of the nursing homes that have been able to achieve high rates of vaccination among their staff have mandated it.”

The nursing home association believes vaccine education and freedom of choice are the best options.

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