State issues vaccine mandate for nursing home workers

41% of facilities in MA have staff vax rates below state average

BOSTON — At the Massachusetts Nurses Association, members embraced COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

“We’ve certainly had tremendous buy-in from our membership from the very beginning,” said MNA President Katy Murphy.

What the MNA is not so keen to buy into are vaccine mandates, such as the one issued Wednesday by the Baker administration. It targets workers at the state’s 378 nursing homes and two Soldiers’ Homes - 41,000 employees in all. The mandate requires COVID vaccine compliance with one dose by September 1, 2021, and, if a two-dose regimen is chosen, the second dose by October 10, 2021.

Murphy said while most MNA members work in acute care facilities, the union does have some who work in nursing homes and could be affected by the order. The organization’s position, all along, is that it doesn’t support a mandate on a vaccine not formally approved by the FDA but still under Emergency Use Authorization.

Murphy said MNA has encouraged members to get vaccinated but outlined a few of the reasons why some have not.

“More and more people are working with health issues, with chronic health issues,” Murphy said. “Taking care of family members, which can sometimes place them more at risk. But they also feel concerns about the unknowns about the vaccines.”

Arlene Germain of the Massachusetts Advocates for Nursing Home Reform can appreciate those concerns when it comes to nursing home staffers, a proportion of whom are of color, she said, and may be from other countries with cultural and/or religious reasons for skepticism about vaccinations.

“They have different viewpoints,” Germain said. “They’ve had much different experiences. Which I greatly sympathize with. So, I do understand the difficulty with this decision. And, of course, the vaccine is not FDA approved yet, which matters a great deal to many people.”

But her organization supports the mandate.

This Delta variant is just too serious, too sinister,” Germain said. “And we need to protect the nursing home residents.”

MA Senior Care agrees. In a statement, the advocacy organization told Boston 25 News: “The staff vaccination mandate for nursing home staff will save lives, especially since many workers move between jobs frequently or hold two jobs in different health care settings.”

Overall, vaccination rates among nursing home staffers across the state are fairly high: 75% on average. The problem, the state says, is that 41% of the 378 nursing homes in Massachusetts, or 155, had staff vaccination rates below that average.

The fear is that any introduction of the Delta variant into a congregant setting is a set-up for catastrophe, let alone one in which the population may have a low ambient immunity level because of its average age and physical condition.

Germain said the mandate is a good start but she would like to see it cover assisted living facilities as well as rest homes.

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