Residents in Louisiana nursing homes are vaccinated against COVID-19 at nearly twice the rate of care center staff, according to newly released data that paints a stark divide within facilities.
The Louisiana Department of Health published vaccination data for individual facilities for the first time last week after a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services mandate required long-term care facilities to provide that information.
On average, about 78% of nursing home residents in Louisiana are fully vaccinated compared to an average of about 41% of workers, according to an analysis of 255 nursing homes that self-reported vaccine information last week.
Mindy Faciane, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Health, said the department is aware of the difference, which also mirrors a similar trend at other nursing homes across the country.
“It is absolutely important that nursing home staff make the decision to get the shot to protect the residents they work with,” Faciane said. “And, it’s not just residents they’re protecting — it’s themselves, their families and the larger community around them.”
State health officials, meanwhile, say they’re encouraged that the vast majority of nursing home residents in Louisiana have received vaccines, which are highly effective at shielding an especially vulnerable population that against COVID-19 and its variants.
More than a dozen nursing homes have even inoculated 100% of their residents, but at least 113 facilities have vaccinated fewer than 80% of their residents. The 80% threshold is roughly what health experts consider to be the level needed to achieve herd immunity and blunt potential outbreaks.
A dozen facilities have yet to fully vaccinate half of their residents, even months after clinicians tapped by the federal government fanned out across the country to inoculate people at long-term centers in early January.
Among those are two nursing homes — Shreveport Manor Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation in Shreveport and South Lafourche Nursing and Rehab in Lafourche Parish — that have yet to fully vaccinate a single resident, according to the report. Though some of the combined 137 residents at those centers have received at least one jab of the two-dose vaccines.
Neither facility returned messages seeking comment.
Long-term care centers were once the deadly epicenters of Louisiana’s coronavirus outbreak. Many were caught flat-footed and scrambled to gather tests and protective equipment that had been in short supply in the early months of the pandemic and take other steps to keep residents safe.
By the end of last May, at least 1,150 nursing home residents had died, a grim figure that accounts for about 40% of the more than 2,800 deaths linked to COVID-19 in Louisiana care centers to date.
Following a significant drop in infections since the beginning of the year, federal health officials this spring loosened guidance on indoor visitation, opening it up to all residents, regardless of the vaccination status of the resident or visitor. The change — the most significant since the pandemic forced homes to go into lockdown last year — has not resulted in a spike in cases.
Nursing homes this past week only saw four residents test positive for the coronavirus, according to state data, which also shows no facilities have had double-digit outbreaks since early March.
Health experts and state officials have attributed the drop in new cases to many nursing home residents receiving the vaccine. They also say the wide availability of vaccines for the general public has also driven down the risk of visitors or workers bringing the virus inside of facilities.
Residents were also likely more eager to take the shots when they became available following months of isolation and seeing many of their neighbors become severely ill.
“They were seeing so much death in their community,” said Tulane University Epidemiologist Susan Hassig. “They heard the news stories that 40% of deaths were coming from nursing homes. They’re not fools.”
State health leaders and advocates for the elderly have raised concerns in the past about hesitancy among care workers because they often work in close quarters with residents. The threat of emerging versions of the novel coronavirus that could reduce vaccine efficacy has also been a worry, and it’s still not known how the shots protect people.
Still, the average rate of nursing home staff who are vaccinated is slightly higher than the roughly 34% of Louisianans ages 18 to 69 who are fully inoculated, health department figures show.
Because the data also doesn’t distinguish between different types of long-term care workers, Hassig speculates that direct care staff may be vaccinated at higher rates compared to nursing home kitchen workers and office workers, for example.
Since nursing home residents and workers were some of the first to become eligible for vaccines, she said it’s possible employees may have been leery about taking them.
Like other people who are hesitant about the vaccines, Hassig said continuing to offer them for nursing home staff and creating ways for them to have their questions answered is one way to encourage them.
“People who are working in these environments clearly care for these people because it’s hard work,” she said. “It’s kind of like getting your kid (to eat) a new vegetable.”
Nearly a year after the coronavirus tore through Louisiana nursing homes and left thousands of residents dead, new infections reached their lo…