Biden admin to require COVID-19 vaccinations for nursing home staff

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will order nursing homes to require their staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face the threat of losing federal funds, President Joe Biden and White House officials confirmed Wednesday.

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“If you work in a nursing home and serve people on Medicare or Medicaid, you will also be required to be vaccinated,” Biden said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

“Studies show that highly vaccinated nursing home staffs (are) associated with at least 30% less COVID-19 cases among long-term care residents. With this announcement, I’m using the power of the federal government as a payer of health care costs to ensure we reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors.”

The decision was first reported earlier in the day by CNN and The Associated Press.

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Nursing homes will be required to mandate that their staff members get vaccinated as a condition for receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding, according to the AP. The requirement could go into effect as soon as next month in a regulation to be issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the AP reported.

In a statement, White House officials said the regulation will apply to more than 15,000 nursing home facilities nationwide, including about 1.3 million employees.

The effort is the latest aimed at convincing vaccine hesitant Americans to get their shots. Last month, Biden set COVID-19 vaccination requirements for federal government employees and onsite contractors as states, including California and New York, began to issue mandates of their own.

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In a report published Wednesday in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, officials with the agency’s COVID-19 Response Team said that early studies have shown mRNA vaccines to be between 53% and 92% effective against COVID-19 for nursing home residents.

Between March and May, officials said that two doses of the available mRNA vaccines -- one manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech, and the other by Moderna -- showed to be nearly 75% effective against COVID-19. However, by June and July, as the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 circulated nationwide, effectiveness had declined to 53%. Officials recommended that nursing home staff members, residents and visitors be vaccinated in order to protect residents.

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At a news conference Wednesday with the White House COVID-19 Response Team, officials emphasized that fully vaccinated people are well protected against severe disease, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 and urged people who have yet to do so to get vaccinated.

“We continue to see a rise in cases driven by the more transmissible delta variant, with cases concentrated in communities with lower vaccination rates,” said Jeff Zients, COVID-19 response coordinator for the White House. “So, this remains a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

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As of Tuesday, the last date for which data was available, nearly 51% of all Americans, or 168.8 million people, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The numbers include 44.2 million people over the age of 65. According to the CDC, about 82% of nursing home residents and 60% of nursing home staff members had been vaccinated as of Aug. 1, the last date for which data was available.

Research has shown that fully vaccinated people can spread the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus, which accounts for more than 80% of all COVID-19 cases reported nationwide; however, officials have noted that vaccination protects well against severe and life-threatening symptoms of the viral infection.

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Since the start of the pandemic, officials have confirmed more than 37 million infections and reported more than 623,000 deaths across the U.S., according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 209 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, resulting in 4.3 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

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