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COVID-19 cases are down sharply in Connecticut nursing homes. The vaccine may be part of the reason why.
Hartford Courant - 1/21/2021
COVID-19 cases in Connecticut nursing homes were down sharply for the second straight week, state numbers showed Thursday, possibly due to high rates of vaccination among residents there.
The state reported 238 new nursing-home cases from Jan. 13-19, down about 24% from the week prior and about 50% from the week before that. Keith Grant, Hartford HealthCare’s senior system director for infection prevention, said vaccine distribution has likely played a role in that trend, noting that patients begin to develop antibodies even after just one vaccine dose.
“An individual who has never had the vaccine vs. an individual who has the vaccine, it reduces your risk exponentially,” Grant said. “Do I think it’s had an effect? Absolutely.”
Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, noted that the vaccine takes time to be effective and said the recent trend in nursing home numbers could also owe to “rigorous testing [and] the infection control efforts that the [Department of Public Health] teams are making across the state.”
Residents of all 213 Connecticut nursing homes received their first vaccine doses by Jan. 8, state officials said, and now many have also received their second dose, which confers immunity within two weeks in about 95% of recipients.
Officials say more than 85% of nursing home residents have accepted the vaccine, a much higher rate than reported in other groups. That means, Grant said, that mortality in nursing homes should drop considerably over the coming weeks.
“[Vaccination] should have a significant impact,” Grant said. “We should be looking at mortality rates that drop by 80 or 90%.”
For now, large numbers of people continue to die in state nursing homes. The state reported 110 deaths in Connecticut nursing homes from Jan. 13-19, up from the previous week and about in line with typical numbers over the past month. Given the time it typically takes for COVID-19 patients to die from the disease, those victims likely contracted the virus before vaccination began or took effect.
Connecticut nursing homes have now recorded more 13,000 COVID-19 cases and 3,841 deaths, more than half the state’s total.
As Geballe noted, nursing home residents would not become fully immune to COVID-19 until five or six weeks after their initial vaccine doses. Vaccinations began at nursing homes the week of Dec. 21., making staff and residents there among the first in the state to get their shots. Anyone who was given their first dose that week would have received their second and final dose three weeks later, during the week of Jan. 11. Given that immunity takes about two weeks to set in, those patients would only now be gaining full protection against COVID-19.
Researchers believe, however, that both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are at least somewhat effective after a single dose, meaning some nursing home residents may have been protected as early as the beginning of January. This, Grant says, makes it likely that the vaccine has already made a noticeable difference.
Nursing home residents aren’t the only ones benefiting already from vaccine distribution. Health care workers have been vaccinated on a similar timeline, and residents 75 and older are currently receiving their first doses. .
Grant was one of the first people in Connecticut to be vaccinated, receiving his first shot during a ceremony on Dec. 21 and his second three weeks later on Jan. 4. Today, nearly three weeks after that, he considers himself safe.
“I’m sitting pretty right now,” Grant said. “My initial cohort you would consider to be between 94 and 96% protected right now.”
Grant notes that even the small minority of patients who contract COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine tend to have less serious symptoms and very low likelihood of death.
In total, Connecticut has now administered at least one vaccine dose to 226,930 of its residents and both doses to 31,337 residents, according to state numbers. Those totals include about 15% of people from age 75-84 and more than 20% of those 85 and older.
Though not enough Connecticut residents have yet been vaccinated to make a dramatic difference in the state’s overall COVID-19 numbers, Gov. Ned Lamont pointed Thursday to a slight recent drop in the coronavirus positivity rate and number of people hospitalized with the virus.
“Some of that, I think, is thanks to the vaccination program rolling out,” Lamont said.
Alex Putterman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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