More than 80% of staff members at long-term care centers in New Hampshire have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the highest percentage in the nation.
Nationwide, only about half of the staff in nursing homes and assisted-living complexes have received all their shots, according to the latest federal data and an independent report.
Seven states and the District of Columbia have vaccinated less than a third, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity earlier this week.
In a statement to the Union Leader, Gov. Chris Sununu said, “New Hampshire’s long-term care facility staff have been on the front lines of this crisis for over a year, and the fact that NH is number one in vaccine uptake from LTC staff is an enormously significant and positive sign that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Vermont has the second-highest vaccination rate at 78%, followed by Massachusetts and Colorado at 73%, Hawaii at 72% and Maine at just over 70%.
Vaccination rates in Connecticut (53%) and Rhode Island (60%) were also above the national average in long-term care settings, according to the report.
The lowest-ranked states were Arkansas (10%), South Dakota (12%), North Dakota (23%), Wyoming (24%), Tennessee and Alaska (both 32%), Arizona and Missouri (both 38%) and New York (39%).
The report was based on the federal vaccine delivery program for long-term care announced four months ago.
The Trump and Biden administrations both enlisted the Walgreens and CVS pharmacy chains to administer an estimated 8 million doses of the vaccines at 63,000 long-term care centers across the country.
West Virginia chose not to use the federal program, and unlike New Hampshire, many states supplemented these pharmacy clinics with their own efforts.
For example, Arkansas officials, reacting to this latest report, said that half their state’s nursing home workers have gotten their shots, most at other state-run vaccine sites.
Other NH vax rates high
Among the first New Hampshire groups offered the vaccine, 79% of those 75 to 84 years old have gotten the first vaccine, as have 73% of those 65 to 74, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard.
The vaccine rate for those 50 to 64 is at 25%. State officials said that percentage is lower because many who started signing up on March 22 have not yet gotten the first shot.
Roughly 70% of staff in public schools, child care and day camps have signed up to get shots, according to Dr. Beth Daly, director of the state’s infectious disease control bureau.
Since Monday, when those in their 40s could sign up, Sununu said about one-third (51,000) have made appointments to be vaccinated.
About a quarter of the 150,000 in their 30s eligible to get their shot signed up Wednesday, the first day they were eligible, Sununu said.
The governor said another 25,000 in their 30s already have been vaccinated because they were teachers or first responders who enrolled earlier.
With the federal pharmacy program for long-term care being phased out, advocates for seniors urged state administrators to more aggressively promote the vaccine among those who haven’t gotten it yet.
The American Health Care Association, a trade association that represents more than 14,000 long-term-care facilities, announced in February a goal of vaccinating 75% of nursing home employees by June 30.
The group has unveiled the #GetVaccinated campaign to give vaccine information to nursing home workers and residents.
Brendan Williams, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, which lobbies for the long-term care industry, said, “We’re very proud of our long-term care workers, whose selflessness is again exhibited by their nation-leading vaccination rate.
“I also commend our state’s epidemiologists and public health team for working with providers, through weekly calls, to help demystify the vaccination process. We have gone the voluntary, not compulsory, route.”
The COVID Tracking Project reported nationally that long-term care residents made up 34% of deaths from the virus.
The state’s current dashboard reports that those over 80 make up only 4.4% of COVID-19 cases but 65% of all deaths.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said as a result of the vaccine delivery to nursing homes, there’s been a shift in where deaths are occurring.
“I want to note that most of these deaths, the majority of these deaths, about 80% or so, are actually occurring in community settings and not long-term care facilities,” Chan said during a recent COVID-19 briefing.
“I think the effectiveness with which we have rolled out vaccine to our long-term care facility residents and staff is having an effect.”