ALBANY — Nursing home workers across New York have been initially less eager to get vaccinated for the coronavirus than the residents for whom they provide care, the leader of an industry umbrella group said last week.
Stephen Hanse, president of the New York State Health Facilities Association, said there appear to be several factors involved in the reluctance of nursing home staffers who spurned initial offers to get the shot. Some employees working on the front lines of the pandemic, Hanse told CNHI, signaled they wanted to determine the vaccine was safe by waiting to see if those first in line for the inoculations experienced any adverse effects from the shots.
Hanse also said Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent mixed messages by raising doubts about the effectiveness of the oversight over the vaccine production effort by President Donald Trump’s administration before a state panel of experts pronounced the vaccines for COVID-19 safe to release in New York.
“That sowed the seeds of doubt,” Hanse said. He suggested the staffers need to be reassured through an education campaign that the vaccines are very safe.
At many of New York’s 618 nursing homes, he said, there has been a participation rate of more than 90% of the residents in getting the inoculations administered by employees of pharmacies retained by the federal government.
In contrast, the vaccination participation rates for the staff has been below 50% at numerous homes, though at others it has hit as high as 85%, and in recent days more workers have signaled they now want the shots, he said.
“The numbers have been lower than what we expected for the staff willing to be vaccinated,” Hanse said.
An analysis published this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a national think tank focused on health policy, found that COVID-19 infections and deaths have been surging at long-term care facilities across the nation since October. To date, the homes have experienced more than 120,000 deaths over the past 10 months.
High levels of vaccine hesitancy among facility staffers “will likely mean more deaths,” Kaiser concluded.
Jeffrey Hammond, spokesman for the state Health Department, said his agency is using its communication platforms to tell New Yorkers the vaccine is safe and effective and does not cause infections.
Hammond noted some nursing home workers counted as refusing the vaccine have simply been deferring the shots. Some workers concerned about the potential for mild side effects chose to postpone getting the shots until after the holiday season, he suggested.
“We are seeing increasing numbers of nursing home staff and residents take the vaccine as it continues to be offered,” Hammond said.
Whether the staffers are vaccinated or not, they all must comply with requirements to use personal protection equipment and follow infection control requirements.
Those getting the vaccines produced by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech SE, and a second from Moderna Inc., need two doses to get the full benefits of the product.
Hanse said that when pharmacy staff returned to nursing homes to administer the second round of shots to those who got the initial dose, some workers who had earlier balked signaled they would get vaccinated.
In a related matter, Hanse is urging state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to ease up on his agency’s “zero tolerance” enforcement efforts at the nursing homes. Hanse noted some facilities are facing threats of having to pay thousands of dollars in fines for “trivial, indeed picayune” alleged violations of state mandates.
In one instance he cited in a letter to Zucker, a facility was hit with a violation notice after filing a required state report just one minute after it was due.
Hanse said the state’s crackdown has forced nursing home administrators to divert “overextended” resources away from their response to the pandemic in order to meet the state agency’s rigid requirements.