Biden announces vaccine mandate for nursing home staff

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President Biden announced Wednesday that staff members at nursing homes would now be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or those facilities would risk losing their Medicare and Medicaid funding.

“I'm using the power of the federal government, as a payer of health care costs, to ensure we reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors,” Biden said in a speech delivered at the White House.

The president has directed the Department of Health and Human Services to finalize guidelines that would make federal Medicare and Medicaid payments contingent on the COVID-19 vaccination status of employees at nursing homes, which serve one of the nation’s most vulnerable populations.

Joe Biden
President Biden discusses COVID-19 response and the vaccination program on Wednesday. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“More than 130,000 residents in nursing homes have, sadly, over the period of this virus, passed away,” Biden said. “At the same time, vaccination rates among nursing home staff significantly trail the rest of the country."

According to early August data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, only 60 percent of staff members at long-term-care facilities have received the full course of the coronavirus vaccine. A little over 82 percent of residents, meanwhile, are fully vaccinated. Approximately 664,000 nursing home residents have been infected since the start of the pandemic, and nearly as many staffers tested positive.

“If you visit, live or work in a nursing home, you should not be at a high risk for contracting COVID from unvaccinated employees,” Biden said.

Biden’s announcement came as the Delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread across the country, ushering in a new set of restrictions at schools and businesses.

Federal workers and contractors must show proof of vaccination or submit to testing, and mask mandates have come storming back. While the administration has stopped short of publicly endorsing so-called vaccine passports, the president has signaled his approval of restrictions enacted in New York City. On Wednesday, Biden once again acknowledged that he would enact far-reaching nationwide measures to counter the pandemic.

William Hallock
A pharmacist administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a staff person at an eldercare facility in Kennett, Pa. (Pete Bannan/ MediaNews Group//Daily Times via Getty Images)

“While I’m mindful that my authority at the federal level is limited, I’m going to continue to look for ways to keep people safe and increase vaccination rates,” Biden said.

When it comes to convincing more people — including those who work with the most vulnerable Americans — to get vaccinated, Biden remains steadfast.

“Quite frankly, it’s a tragedy. There are people who are dying and who will die who didn’t have to,” he added. “So, please, if you haven’t gotten vaccinated, do it now. Do it now. It can save your life, and it can save the lives of those you love.”


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