Federal health officials instituted a rule mandating long-term care facilities report residents’ and staff’s COVID-19 vaccinations every week to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) starting in two weeks.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the vaccination reporting requirement on Tuesday, directing the facilities to report the data to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), a national infection tracking system.
Officials aim to use the information to help track vaccinations in these congregate care settings and determine which might need more resources during the pandemic. At this time, the rule applies to long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, and residential facilities for those with intellectual disabilities.
Vaccination details for specific facilities will be available for the facilities, stakeholders and public to see on CMS’s COVID-19 Nursing Home Data website once the data is collected.
Long-term care facilities already have to report COVID-19 testing, case and death data to the NHSN, but COVID-19 vaccination statistics have not previously been mandated. The requirement for COVID-19 shots reflects previously mandated reporting of influenza and pneumococcal vaccines.
Lee Fleisher, CMS chief medical officer and the director of CMS’s Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, said in a statement that the mandate will help ensure “equitable vaccine access” for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
“Today’s announcement directly aids nursing home residents and people with intellectual or developmental disabilities who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19,” he said. “Our goal is to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence and acceptance among these individuals and the staff who serve them.”
The rule intends to limit the amount of severe illness and deaths occurring in these facilities after nursing homes became breeding grounds for the virus, leading to many deaths among the vulnerable residents.
Despite representing 1 percent of the U.S. population, nursing home residents made up about one in three deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project's estimates.
CMS said it is looking into extending the policies to psychiatric residential treatment facilities, group homes and assisted living facilities.
The federal government’s move to track vaccinations in long-term care facilities comes as 83.7 percent of Americans 65 and older have received at least one shot, according to the CDC.
As of April 23, more than 4.8 million long-term care residents and staff received at least one dose and more than 2.8 million are fully vaccinated.
David Gifford, the chief medical officer of American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, said in a statement that the organizations "greatly appreciate" the move.
"Reporting vaccination rates is critical to facilitating in-person visitations in nursing homes, tracking the effectiveness of the vaccines, and helping ensure the industry meets our goal to vaccinate 75 percent of staff by the end of June," he said.
“It is important that we not judge facilities with low vaccination rates, but instead, seek to understand whether additional resources or outreach can be done to encourage more staff and residents to get the vaccine, or help facilities acquire additional vaccines for new patients and hires," Gifford added.