CT focuses on boosters for nursing homes as COVID infections rise overall

FILE - A healthcare worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Jackson Memorial Hospital on Oct. 5, 2021, in Miami. U.S. regulators have opened up COVID-19 booster shots to all and more adults, Friday, Nov. 19, letting them choose another dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

FILE - A healthcare worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Jackson Memorial Hospital on Oct. 5, 2021, in Miami. U.S. regulators have opened up COVID-19 booster shots to all and more adults, Friday, Nov. 19, letting them choose another dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

Lynne Sladky / Associated Press

As the state’s COVID vaccine rollout shifts from initial doses to boosters, state officials said a particular focus has been placed on reaching all nursing home residents and staff.

While Connecticut has one of the highest overall COVID vaccination rates, it lags slightly behind for booster doses. With eligibility expanded to all adults, officials said an emphasis has been placed on residents in nursing facilities, which were among the hardest hit during the pandemic.

“We are bringing booster clinics to all of our nursing homes. You know how hard they were hit a year and a half ago. We got everybody there vaccinated, but in many cases that was six (to) nine months ago. So now’s the time for both the nurses, as well as the residents in the nursing homes, to get your booster shot,” Lamont said.

Boosters, which were first approved on a limited basis in October, have received broad authorization amid some studies that show the efficacy of the initial course of vaccine wanes over time.

As officials push for an increase in boosters administered to residents, Connecticut continues to see a rise in infections and hospitalizations. On Tuesday, the state reported a daily positivity rate of 4.64 percent for new COVID-19 tests. Hospitalizations increased by a net of 14 patients for a total of 282.

State officials said recently there are challenges in terms of when certain data is reported, causing the numbers to fluctuate on some days.

New infections and deaths among nursing homes spiked briefly with the arrival of the highly transmissible delta variant, state records show, but has since declined. Despite a decline, there has been at least one outbreak at a Canaan nursing facility, Geer Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, that sickened 89 people, killing eight residents.

Of the 89 who tested positive, facility officials said 87 were fully vaccinated. Kevin O’Connell, the facility’s chief executive officer, said the outbreak may speak to “waning immunity” among residents and staff.

A booster clinic had been scheduled, but it was delayed because of the outbreak, officials at the facility said. They are required to wait two weeks after the outbreak subsides to hold a clinic.

Though the focus is on nursing facilities with targeted booster clinics, officials did say that many nursing homes have had booster clinics, some as early as a week after approval from federal regulators.

“What we are doing now is focusing on the stragglers,” said Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer. “As we have seen in the past, unfortunately, some homes take a little longer to get organized.”

Geballe said DPH is pushing hard to reach all of the homes that have not yet received boosters.

This comes as nursing homes, and other long-term care and assisted living facilities, are under increased pressure from the state to report on how many employees are vaccinated.

As cases statewide started to increase with the spread of the delta variant, Lamont issued limited vaccine mandates, including for workers at these facilities.

Now the state has started to impose hefty fines on facilities that have not reported the vaccine numbers among staff. As of Sunday, more than $19 million in fines have been issued against these “non-reporter” facilities, DPH said.

Industry groups said Monday that the citations against these companies reflect confusion and communication issues, not a reluctance to get vaccinated.

These groups said vaccine numbers among workers in long-term care facilities are high. The state said these companies have the opportunity to appeal the fines.

While there’s a focus to get all nursing home residents and staff a booster shot, officials have been stressing that everyone who is eligible should also get the additional dose.

As of Tuesday, nearly 530,000 additional doses, which includes booster shots, have been administered throughout Connecticut. The numbers are expected to continue to increase in the coming weeks since all adults are now eligible.

“My view is don’t wait,” Lamont said Monday. “Get it now before bad stuff can happen.”