President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a plan to require Covid-19 vaccinations for staff in federally funded nursing homes — and withhold money for facilities that don’t comply with the policy.
It’s the first time the White House has used the threat of holding back federal funding to boost vaccination rates and will impact roughly 15,000 nursing homes employing 1.3 million people. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid will issue an emergency regulation in September, making staff vaccination a condition of funding.
While Biden officials for months have encouraged vaccinations and backed states’ various incentives for shot recipients, the coming mandate is a significant pivot toward penalizing facilities without requirements.
“More than 130,000 residents of nursing homes have sadly, sadly, over the period of this virus, passed away. At the same time, vaccination rates among nursing home staff significantly trail the rest of the country,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “With this announcement, I’m using the power of the federal government as a payer of health care costs to make sure we reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors. These steps are all about keeping people safe and out of harm’s way.”
The president added that studies indicate high vaccination rates among nursing home staff are associated with 30 percent fewer Covid-19 cases among long-term care patients.
The administration floated a vaccine order earlier this month, earning swift criticism from Republicans and industry groups who warned they would oppose the plan.
Biden unveiled the order in remarks on the need for Covid-19 boosters in the broader population amid the ongoing surge fueled by the Delta variant, which now accounts for nearly every new Covid-19 case in the country. In his remarks, Biden also encouraged masking requirements at schools to keep children safe and backed broader vaccine mandates in the workplace.
The health department would still need to develop and finalize the new regulations slated for next month. Just 60 percent of nursing home staff are vaccinated against Covid-19 currently, according to the agency. Those staff serve about 1.6 million nursing home residents, many of the people most vulnerable to severe Covid-19 and the impact of emerging variants.
New Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released on Wednesday showed a significant drop in vaccine effectiveness among nursing home residents in particular, compounding concerns that the most vulnerable could remain at heightened risk as long as the virus is circulating around them.
The White House noted in a fact sheet that several states have already instituted vaccine requirements for nursing home staff “and this action will ensure consistent and equitable standards across the country.”