FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2021 file photo, nursing home residents make a line for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Harlem Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, a nursing home facility, in Harlem neighborhood of New York. 

INDIANAPOLIS — Employees at long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities, were among the first to qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine in Indiana. But the numbers of staffers taking the vaccine aren’t immediately clear.

Following the first round of clinics through the federal Pharmacy Partnership Program in January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 77.8% of residents opted to take the vaccine while just 37.5% of staffers did. The report didn’t include breakdowns by state.

In response, the national trade representative American Health Care Association (AHCA) publicly aimed to increase vaccine acceptance to 75% by June 30. AHCA also released industry survey results that found acceptance among staffers had increased from 32% in December to 62% by late March.

Zach Cattell, the president of the Indiana AHCA association, said that the federal vaccination clinics were in high demand and vaccinated vast majorities of nursing homes residents. But staff uptake saw greater ranges.

“With respect to staff, I do hear numbers as high as (80%, 90%) that have very high uptake, but I also hear buildings that have staff where only 30% or 40% of the staff have taken up the vaccine,” Cattell said. “Vaccine hesitancy had been discussed as the vaccine was developed, so this wasn’t new.”

Just before the approval of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines late last year, the state sent an anonymous survey to staffers to determine their vaccine acceptance rates. Of those surveyed, 45% said they would take the vaccine immediately, while another 25% said they would take the vaccine “at some point.”

The approximately 70% acceptance rate hasn’t yet been affirmed by actual data. The Indiana State Department of Health didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether it tracks vaccine acceptance among healthcare workers.

To improve vaccination rates, Cattell said that his organization shared objective, factual vaccine information along with webinars and shared AHCA’s tips, many of which rely on peer-to-peer encouragement and rewarding staff who do vaccinate.

As of Monday, CVS and Walgreen’s delivered a combined 83,349 doses to nursing homes and 58,334 at assisted living facilities. The 141,683 doses include both the first shot and the second shot as well as residents and staffers.

Some facilities chose not to participate in the federal program through the pharmacy giants and their vaccine doses aren’t included in the totals.

The majority of all facilities had completed their three clinics with CVS or Walgreen’s, meaning that the pharmacies won’t be returning. Some staff members may have received one shot or incoming nursing home residents may not have had a chance to be vaccinated yet.

Cattell said that early in the vaccine rollout, the state assured nursing homes that additional doses, or “maintenance doses,” could be requested and distributed to long-term care pharmacies, which already have established relationships with the facilities.

“The state has been active and very communicative over the last couple of weeks in particular about enrolling and distributing vaccine to long-term care pharmacies beyond CVS and Walgreen’s,” Cattell said.

Debate over whether employers should require the vaccine fizzled in the General Assembly earlier this year, meaning employers can still require employees to vaccinate. But Cattell said protections still exist for religious and medical exemptions.

Cattell said nursing homes and assisted living facilities were hesitant to employ this method, preferring instead to assure staffers with facts about the vaccines.

“This too was a discussion that started before the vaccine was even released and it’s an important discussion,” Cattell said. “People have questions about the vaccine and we know that our members across the country are hopefully providing the facts on the efficacy of the vaccine to help their employees see the reasons for taking it.”

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