A study from the American Health Care Association has found that the COVID-19 vaccines are contributing to lower infection rates and COVID spread in nursing homes. This study, based on preliminary data gathered shortly after the introduction of the vaccine in nursing homes in late 2020, provides evidence in favor of reopening nursing homes after its residents and staff have been vaccinated.
Nursing homes residents have largely had no in-person visitation with family and friends since COVID first blew up in the United States in March 2020. While outbreaks have ebbed and flowed in facilities across the country, the visitation prohibition has persisted, leaving residents suffering from extreme isolation and neglect.
With the emergency approval of COVID vaccines, many nursing home residents and their families hoped that facilities would be cleared to re-open for visitation once the residents and staff had been vaccinated. However, uncertainty about the vaccine’s impact on COVID spread has given government officials pause about reopening. The vaccine is known to effectively provide immunity from COVID such that recipients are much less likely to get sick but there is uncertainty about whether the vaccine prevents or limits the recipient’s capacity to carry and spread the virus.
The new study looked at approximately 2,500 nursing homes, some of which had vaccination clinics and others which had not. The authors compared new COVID cases in facilities located in the same county and found that those with vaccination clinics had greater declines in COVID cases than those that did not. In other words, the vaccine is working not only to protect residents from getting sick and dying from COVID but perhaps protecting them from carrying and spreading the virus that causes it. Another early vaccine study from Israel seems to confirm this finding.
The AHCA study is evidence that facilities where residents and staff have been vaccinated may be sufficiently protected from COVID to allow more reopening to visitors than has been previously permitted by our government. As we approach the one year visitation “banniversary,” it is time for local public health authorities to dismantle their rigid visitation bans and for national and state governments to require nursing homes to permit safe and reasonable in-person visitation.