All nursing home workers in Massachusetts will be required to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) announced Wednesday.
The move is an escalation of Baker's efforts to increase the state's vaccination rate, and marks the first statewide mandate. Nearly every hospital in Massachusetts is set to require their employees to be vaccinated.
All unvaccinated staff at the 378 skilled nursing facilities, as well as the two soldiers' homes in the state, will have to receive a first dose of a two-dose series by Sept. 1. Enforcement will begin Oct. 10.
Baker's administration cited a five-fold increase in COVID-19 infections among staff and residents in Massachusetts nursing homes in the past month.
The mandate will apply to “all individuals employed directly or by contract” at long-term care facilities.
The requirement will provide exemptions for those with medical restrictions or "sincerely held religious beliefs" that prevent them from receiving vaccination.
“COVID-19 vaccination is the most effective method for preventing infection and serious illness from the virus, and staff at long-term care facilities and other health care providers serving vulnerable populations are critical in efforts to protect older residents,” the administration said in a statement.
Low vaccination rates among nursing home staff pose a serious problem for vulnerable residents, and threatens the progress the nation has made in protecting the vulnerable elderly.
More than seven months after becoming eligible, only about 59 percent of staff in nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide are partially or fully vaccinated, according to federal data.
Massachusetts has one of the higher staff vaccination rates, but it's still not 100 percent. As of Monday, the 155 facilities in the state that reported data had about 74 percent of their staff fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the nationwide average vaccination rate for nursing home residents is 81 percent.
Health experts are concerned low vaccine uptake among staff could leave residents vulnerable to a resurgence of the virus, despite their relatively high vaccination rates.