After almost three months of COVID-19 vaccination clinics, several area long-term care facilities are reporting that nearly all residents have been immunized. However, their employees are trailing behind, with about 60 to 80 percent getting shots.
Of the Maplewood Nursing Home staff who decided not to get vaccinated, most “truly said that they believed the vaccine was developed too quickly,” Kathryn Kindopp, the administrator of the Westmoreland facility, said in an email.
That, she added, was “despite all of our educational materials that helped to show that the mRNA vaccines were developed with all the usual safety and time frames, with the exception of the 2 year monitoring, which in a pandemic is not practical.”
Nursing home employees in New Hampshire were first offered the vaccine in late December, as were residents of long-term care facilities and other health-care workers.
Both approved vaccines — one by Pfizer-BioNTech, the other by Moderna — show about a 95 percent efficacy rate, the FDA says. Depending on the brand, the two vaccine doses are administered either 21 or 28 days apart.
At Maplewood, 100 percent of residents have received their first shot, and about 95 percent had gotten their second as of Jan. 25, according to Kindopp.
Of the county-owned nursing home’s 206 employees, about 75 percent had gotten their first vaccine dose by that point, and half had received their second.
The rates are similar at Genesis Healthcare facilities in Keene, Winchester and Peterborough.
While Pheasant Wood Center in Peterborough — which has completed its clinics — has seen the highest vaccination rate of local Genesis nursing homes among residents (96 percent), its staff rate is the lowest at 62 percent, according to data provided Monday by Dr. Richard Feifer, chief medical officer for the company.
At Keene Center, 71 percent of employees had received the first dose, and at Langdon Place the staff vaccination rate for the first round was 65 percent.
Applewood Rehabilitation Center in Winchester showed slightly higher numbers among staff, with 79 percent of employees having received the first dose.
Resident rates at these facilities ranged from a low of 85 percent at Langdon Place to Pheasant Wood’s high of 96 percent.
Meanwhile, Hillside Village in Keene — which is not owned by Genesis — reported that about 58 percent of employees had received both vaccine doses as of Wednesday. And approximately 80 percent had received at least one, according to Executive Director Jolynn Whitten.
Long-term care centers are especially vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic because the virus is known to travel quickly through congregate-living settings, according to health officials. This is due to the proximity of residents, many of whom have underlying health conditions.
As of Friday, 816 deaths statewide had been linked to long-term care settings, accounting for about 72 percent of New Hampshire’s total number of confirmed COVID-19-related deaths (1,126) to date.
Keene Center, Pheasant Wood and Applewood are among the area facilities that have experienced outbreaks, resulting in the deaths of 25 residents between the three of them. Pheasant Wood’s outbreak has ended, whereas Keene Center’s and Applewood’s are still considered active.
Boosting vaccination rates
Because the COVID-19 vaccines were approved under an emergency-use authorization, nursing homes and other places of employment cannot require their staff to get immunized.
But staff rates among area nursing homes that gave their numbers to The Sentinel are well above national statistics.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, in the first full month of the vaccine program, the national median among more than 11,000 long-term care facilities was 37.5 percent of staff receiving the first dose.
As to why employees are reluctant to get vaccinated, the reasons vary.
Kindopp said some have to do with personal political beliefs, and other employees said they were told by their physicians not to get vaccinated due to medical conditions like pregnancy.
There is limited data, according to the CDC, about whether or not the vaccine is safe for those who are pregnant. However, the agency said it has no safety concerns for pregnant women who wish to get immunized.
“Some indicated it was too soon and felt this vaccine was too experimental or developed too quickly,” Kindopp said. “Some were open to talking about issues they had concerns about, others had strong beliefs and walked away.”
The approved COVID-19 vaccines have been held to the same rigorous safety and effectiveness standards as other vaccines in the United States, according to the CDC.
People may experience side effects after getting the vaccine, such as pain or swelling at the injection site, headache, chills or fever. These symptoms are normal and shows the vaccine is working, the agency said.
To get the rates up among staff, local facilities have put up educational posters and flyers in their buildings, answered questions about the vaccines and encouraged those who are able to get the shot.
“Our leadership team, clinicians, physicians and advanced practice providers have been working around the clock to educate patients, residents, staff and families about the importance of being vaccinated,” Feifer said in a prepared statement, “and to answer every point of hesitancy or concern with a combination of compassion and factual information.”
Maplewood also gave incentives to staff, according to Kindopp, such as a fleece vest or jacket with the facility’s logo if it reached a vaccination rate of 75 percent. Staff who at least got the first dose were also entered into gift certificate drawings, she added.
“I have no doubt that this incentive program was a large reason we did in fact achieve the 75%,” she said.