Nursing home vaccines paying off

By Mackenzi Klemann -

LIMA — Ohio nursing homes have seen a 77% decline in new coronavirus cases between late November and mid-January, a trend credited in part to the federal pharmacy vaccination program that has been underway in long-term care facilities since December.

New Ohio Department of Health data show that long-term care facilities across the state identified 2,697 positive COVID-19 cases in residents in the final week of November. By the week of Jan. 17, new COVID-19 cases in those facilities fell to 617.

While COVID-19 cases have been on the decline since early January, new cases have fallen by 45% overall compared to a 77% decline in cases within long-term care facilities.

Nursing homes and assisted living centers are now awaiting new guidance from the Ohio Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and prevention to determine when and how to ease up on visitor policies and other restrictions intended to slow the spread of coronavirus within congregate living arrangements.

The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, which represent 14,000 long-term care communities across the U.S., are asking the CDC to assess how effective the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are at preventing transmission of the virus as well as preventing serious illness and disease among nursing home residents, who were not included in the vaccines’ clinical trials.

A recent study commissioned by the groups found that new cases among long-term care residents living in nursing homes that had already started vaccinations fell at a faster rate than those living in facilities that were still waiting to administer their first shots. But more research is needed before long-term care communities can update their policies.

“Prioritizing research on the vaccines’ effectiveness among our population would help ensure these facilities can swiftly and safely reopen, improving the lives of our vulnerable seniors,” the groups said in a joint letter to the CDC last week.

And some assisted living communities are still waiting for their final vaccination clinics eight weeks after the federal pharmacy program for long-term care facilities got underway, meaning outbreaks are still possible.

In the last week, the Ohio Department of Health reported 11 new resident and six staff cases in Allen County nursing homes and assisted living communities, according to data released last Wednesday.

Among those still waiting are Elmcroft of Lima, an assisted living community affiliated with Eclipse Senior Living, which will hold its third and final vaccination clinic next Monday.

Georgiana Saffle, executive director of Elmcroft Lima, said 100% of the assisted living community’s residents have participated in the program, while staff participation has been considerable as well.

Indoor visitations are permitted so long as visitors wear personal protective gear and undergo a symptom assessment, including a temperature check, before meeting with residents. Likewise, group activities are permitted when residents can remain six feet apart, policies that were developed under the guidance of Eclipse’s COVID-19 task force, which evaluates CDC and Ohio Department of Health guidelines to help facilities craft their own policies. It’s a process Saffle said has been successful, even though there’s still uncertainty regarding how policies will change once residents have been fully vaccinated.

“So far,” she said, “it’s worked.”

By Mackenzi Klemann

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