A number of major medical groups and senior services associations have joined forces to call for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all health and long-term care workers. This national push for a mandate comes at a time when a new and more infectious strain of coronavirus — the Delta variant — is making the news.
“The Delta variant is more aggressive and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters at a briefing Thursday. “It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of, and that I have seen, in my 20-year career.”
Almost 60 organizations, including LeadingAge, stated in a joint letter this week that vaccinations are a natural extension of health care workers’ overall commitment to ensuring the well-being of long-term care recipients.
While providers have increased efforts around vaccination for staff and seniors, there is more that needs to be done, according to Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge.
“As COVID-19 variants emerge and proliferate, we can start saving more lives today by ensuring staff are fully vaccinated,” she said in a separate press release. “The association encouraged members to make vaccines a condition of employment for all health care workers … with appropriate exemptions for those with medical reasons or as specified by federal or state law. The statement emphasized that the vaccines have proven to be safe and effective in preventing infection, reducing the spread of the virus and the chance of serious illness or death.”
Washington, D.C.-based LeadingAge is an association of nonprofit aging services providers.
Aside from LeadingAge, the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association are among the other organizations that signed the letter.
Notably absent from the list are the Home Care Association of America (HCAOA) and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC), two of the leading home-based care groups in the U.S.
NAHC, in particular, has spoken out against false reports that claimed their organization had joined in the push for mandatory vaccination.
While the organization encourages people to get vaccinated, it also emphasized its belief that health care providers need to be able to decide how best to serve the interests of their patients and respect the sensitivities of its employees, according to a NAHC statement sent to Home Health Care News.
“From the beginning of this public health emergency, NAHC and its members have been at the forefront of providing the latest and best education about the dangers of COVID-19 and the value and efficacy of the vaccines,” NAHC wrote in the statement. “This important work will continue. The NAHC Board of Directors took a public pledge to take the vaccine as soon as it became available to them and all have fulfilled that pledge. NAHC and its members will continue to work toward full vaccination of every person in home care, home health and hospice through education, persuasion and incentivization.”
In general, home health workers are among the least vaccinated among the broader health care workforce.
Only 26% of home health workers had received a COVID-19 vaccine as of March, according to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and The Washington Post. That was in relation to 66% of workers in hospitals, 64% of workers in outpatient clinics and 50% of workers in nursing homes or assisted care facilities.
At the time, the survey found that lack of employer efforts was one of the many factors that contributed to lower vaccination rates among home health workers.
Despite this, multiple home-based care providers have established strategies to help interested staff receive the vaccination.
Overall, the delta variant has quickly spread across the U.S. The virus is now responsible for more than 83% of sequenced cases, according to data from the CDC.