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Variant Spread Renews Focus on Nursing-Home Vaccinations

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MADISON, Wis. -- In Wisconsin and around the U.S., there are growing calls for a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for nursing-home staffs, and a nonprofit said many facilities are failing to meet an industry goal.

AARP said its latest tracking data showed only 18% of Wisconsin nursing homes have met the industry target of 75% of workers vaccinated.

Collectively, only 60% of long-term care facility workers in America have received their COVID shots.

Helen Marks Dicks, state issues advocacy director for AARP Wisconsin, said given the spike in patient deaths last winter, now's not the time to see vaccinations languish as variants spread.

"If you're walking into a nursing home unvaccinated, you're putting a lot of people at risk that have health challenges to begin with," Dicks asserted.

AARP is gathering federal data as part of its COVID-19 nursing home dashboards, which are summarized in four-week periods.

Dicks noted there was a major push for nursing-home vaccinations earlier this year, but things stalled over the summer. She pointed to industry fears of worsening staffing shortages as one factor. Generally, personal freedoms and questions about health effects are often cited by those who have not yet been vaccinated.

Dicks argued it is important for nursing homes to issue the mandates because there are roadblocks in trying to get policymakers to establish a requirement for the broader public.

"The rates are increasing slightly, and Wisconsin is doing better than average for both the number of nursing-home residents and nursing-home staff that are vaccinated," Dicks acknowledged. "But it's still not at the levels that [we] would like to see."

Groups such as the American Medical Association have called for vaccination mandates for health-care employees, including long-term care workers.

Coinciding with the renewed calls is an increase in COVID case activity at nursing homes. Recent dashboards show a nationwide increase of 50% among residents.

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