Boosters could come to nursing home residents and health care workers by late September
As COVID-19 infections inch up at long-term care facilities, plans are ramping up to deliver booster shots to seniors living there, likely by late September, officials said.
A total of 184 nursing home residents and 94 staff members contracted COVID-19 the week ending Aug. 14, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported Wednesday.
That's compared to 128 residents and 74 staff the week ending Aug. 7, reflecting the spread of the highly infectious delta strain of COVID-19. Total cases at nursing homes hovered in the 30s for most of June but began spiking in July.
Health care workers and long-term care centers were among the first to receive COVID-19 shots in December and January as vaccines debuted.
The federal government is recommending a booster shot starting eight months after an individual's second dose, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will likely offer those doses beginning the week of Sept. 20, IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said.
"At that time, the individuals who were fully vaccinated earliest in the vaccination rollout, including many health care providers, nursing home residents and other seniors, will likely be eligible for a booster," she said.
"HHS would also begin efforts to deliver booster shots directly to residents of long-term care facilities at that time, given the distribution of vaccines to this population early in the vaccine rollout and the continued increased risk that COVID-19 poses to them."
Why are breakthrough cases occurring at long-term care facilities, considering the high rate of vaccination?
Experts blamed the delta variant, the fact nursing home residents live in close quarters and that elderly individuals are more vulnerable to infections.
"With age, the immune response is blunted, so the success of the vaccine and the ability to generate a large antibody response decreases a bit," explained Dr. Mark Loafman, Cook County Health's Family and Community Medicine Department chairman.
"That's where the concept of a third dose comes in. There is just a little less immunity as we get older, and it starts around age 50 and continues each decade after that," Loafman said.
Getting vaccines to the public was problematic in Illinois initially with shots in short supply, demand high, and long lines at mass sites and clinics.
Now, "Illinois has built a robust infrastructure of COVID-19 vaccine providers -- pharmacies, local health departments, clinics, doctors, hospitals and others," Arnold said. "Federal health officials have indicated the booster dose would be administered starting eight months after an individual's second dose, so not everyone will need to be vaccinated at the same time. We continue to monitor vaccinations and will augment plans as needed."
About 85% of residents at long-term care facilities in the U.S. are fully vaccinated against COVID-19; however, staff rates are at 60.5%, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Close to home, "tragically, only 26.3% of Illinois nursing homes have achieved the 75% staff vaccination benchmark," AARP Illinois State Director Bob Gallo said in a statement. "In contrast, the nursing home residents they care for are vaccinated at a rate of 83.8%."