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Vaccinations lag for home health workers

Sophie Quinton and Kristian Hernández, Stateline.org on

Published in News & Features

Gaudy Baez-Montero, 41, works full time in Massachusetts as a personal care aide for an 11-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. She wants to get a COVID-19 vaccine to protect herself and the child, but she’s struggling to get an appointment.

“My work gave me a number to call,” she said. “I’ve been calling and calling, but I haven’t been able to get any help.”

Health care workers were among the first U.S. residents eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. But months into the vaccination rollout, survey data suggests that nurses and aides who work in people’s homes are less likely to have had shots than their counterparts in hospitals and nursing homes.

Just a quarter of home health care workers were vaccinated by early March, compared to about two-thirds of hospital workers and half of nursing home workers, according to a joint poll by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post.

Home health care workers serve older, disabled and terminally ill people at high risk of complications from COVID-19. Many workers are low-paid Black and Hispanic women, who have expressed more wariness about COVID-19 vaccines in surveys.

But lack of access, not hesitancy, is driving the low vaccination rate, said April Verrett, president of Service Employees International Union Local 2015, which represents over 400,000 home care and nursing workers in California.

 

“A lot has been made of vaccine hesitancy among communities of color,” Verrett said, “and it is true that there has been a high level of hesitancy. But I think what’s even more problematic is the barriers to access.”

Vaccinating home care workers poses a logistical challenge for state and local policymakers. Such aides and nurses work from people’s homes, rather than a central location. Some work directly for families, or for employers that lack the equipment needed to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

The federal government and states haven’t gone the extra mile necessary to reach these workers, home care employers say. While policymakers have set aside doses for hospital and nursing home staff, few states and localities have set aside doses specifically for home care workers or organized vaccination events for them.

Most home-based nurses and aides are trying to land vaccine appointments at pharmacies, public health departments and mass vaccination sites, just like the general population. Workers, employers and union leaders say some aides don’t have the technology and language skills needed to make an appointment online, let alone the ability to take time off to travel to one.

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