Covid Live Updates: CDC Study Shows Third Shots Better Protect the Immunocompromised

Medical workers in a Covid-19 ward of the VA Boston Healthcare System this month. Credit…Joseph Prezioso/Agence France-Presse, via Getty Images

Unvaccinated health workers in about half of the United States are to receive their first dose of a Covid vaccine on Thursday under a federal mandate that has prepared understaffed hospitals and nursing homes to lose more workers.

The Biden administration’s mandate, to come into effect in a phased manner, will eventually affect approximately 10 million health care workers in 76,000 hospitals, nursing homes, home care facilities and other providers that participate in Medicaid and Medicare.

Thursday’s deadline follows a Jan. 13 Supreme Court decision that blocked a vaccine-or-test mandate for major employers but maintained a vaccination requirement for health workers in federally funded facilities. These medical facilities will lose funding if they don’t follow the rules, federal officials said.

The vaccination requirement goes into effect this week in states that have not challenged the mandate in court, including California, Hawaii, Minnesota and New York, as well as all US territories.

Health workers in most remaining states, where a lower court had blocked the mandate, have until Feb. 14 to receive a first dose. For Texas, the deadline is February 22. To keep their jobs, all health workers must be fully vaccinated one month after their first dose.

Some in the nursing home sector say the mandate could exacerbate staff shortages and threaten care for elderly patients. They have repeatedly pushed for a testing option for their employees.

Mark Parkinson, the chief executive of the American Health Care Association, a trade group that represents thousands of nursing homes across the country, said in a statement last week that its members “remained concerned that the impact of the vaccine mandate among health professionals will be devastating to an already decimated labor force in long-term care.”

Just over 80 percent of the trade group’s nursing home staff are fully vaccinated, Mr Parkinson said. He said health care providers had made “courageous efforts” to vaccinate their staff and should not be penalized.

Mary Susan Tack-Yurek, the chief quality officer and a partner at Quality Life Services, a nursing home chain in western Pennsylvania, said her company had achieved high vaccination coverage without a mandate. More than 96 percent of the chain’s employees have been vaccinated or have a medical exemption, she said, a sharp increase since October, when less than half of the workforce was vaccinated.

“We strongly support the vaccine and its effectiveness and authenticity, but we respect individual choice,” she said.

Mandate supporters say they have urged millions of hesitant Americans to get their injections and they are needed to stem the spread of the virus, especially among vulnerable hospital patients and nursing home residents.

Nursing homes have already exhausted several financial incentives to encourage voluntary vaccination, including raffles and giveaways, said Dr. Brian McGarry, a health researcher at the University of Rochester who specializes in long-term health care research.

“I think the only kind of tool left in the policy toolkit is a general mandate,” he said.

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