Vaccinations of long term care residents in U.S. nursing homes appears to be putting a sizable dent in the number of new COVID-19 infections among this most vulnerable population, according to a new blog post by Omar Zahraoui, a data analyst at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).

While nursing homes have disproportionately suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, over the past year the rate of new COVID-19 cases among residents moved nearly in tandem with the rate of new cases within the nation as a whole, he said. However, with the distribution and administration of vaccines aimed at these residents taking hold, the infection rates have declined sharply in nursing centers, much more than the general population.

“Within a few weeks of the launch of the Long Term Care (LTC) vaccination program administered through the Pharmacy Partnership Program, with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 21, 2020, and the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 28, new COVID-19 cases within skilled nursing properties have been sharply lower than the U.S. overall new cases at any previous point,” Zahraoui said.
Various reports show that residents overwhelming opt in to receiving vaccinations, whereas during a similar time less than 10 percent of the U.S. population had received at least one vaccine shot. These initial results are promising and provide another potential data point on the effectiveness of vaccinations in preventing new COVID-19 cases, he said.

At the beginning of February, more than 30 million people had been inoculated in the United States, and the vaccines appear to be safe and effective. “According to the latest NIC Executive Survey Insights (Wave 20), which collected survey results from Jan. 11 to 24, “two-thirds of residents (66 percent) and nearly one-half of staff (47 percent) have had their first dose,” Zahraoui said.

“Increasingly, there is support for the idea that as the number of people who are vaccinated increases, the number of hospitalizations should potentially decrease, as was indicated in a study of trends in Israel and its high vaccination rates,” he said.

Note, the vaccination rates reported by the federal government in its Jan. 17 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report show a median of 77.8 percent of residents receiving the vaccination and 37.5 percent of staff members.

Zahraoui said that since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began reporting data in late May, newly confirmed cases within skilled nursing properties have followed the same pattern as the U.S. overall new cases, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For the week ending Dec. 20, both overall new cases in the United States and within skilled nursing properties reached new peaks before slipping back in late December. “In fact, U.S. new virus cases reached a seven-day moving average of about 220,000 on Dec. 20, while the per-resident rate of new COVID-19 infections set a record at 3.03 percent at the same time, according to data compiled by NIC,” Zahraoui said.

However, in recent weeks there has been a noticeable divergence in these trends as the vaccines are distributed in nursing homes. NIC’s Skilled Nursing COVID Tracker featuring the latest CMS data update as of Jan. 24 shows that case counts of COVID-19 and fatalities at skilled nursing properties have started to decline.

He said although new cases in the United States (seven-day moving average) reached levels higher than the prior December peaks by Jan. 10 (244,702), newly confirmed cases within skilled nursing properties continued falling steadily and remained far below the previous peak seen on Dec. 20, with a 1 percentage point decline recorded over four weeks, from 3.03 percent on Dec. 20 to 1.96 percent on Jan. 17.

Similarly, new coronavirus fatalities among skilled nursing residents have flattened and slightly decreased from Dec. 20 levels, while U.S new fatalities (seven-day moving average) continued to climb at a faster pace. For the week ending Dec. 20, fatalities in nursing homes accounted for approximately 31 percent of overall new fatalities in the United States. By Jan. 17, the skilled nursing new fatalities as a share of total fatalities in the United States dropped to 21 percent.

“The decrease in new cases and fatalities in skilled nursing properties relative to trends in the total United States is encouraging, particularly given the timing relative to widespread distribution of the vaccine to long term care properties,” said NIC President and Chief Executive Officer Brian Jurutka.

NIC has been publishing a regularly updated weekly surveillance report since June 2020 on the incidence of COVID-19 cases and fatalities among residents in the nation’s nursing care properties.

For more reading on the effects of COVID-19 in skilled nursing properties, see the following report: