Empire State Weekly: Boosting Vaccination Efforts Ahead of the Holidays

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(NEWS10) – This week on Empire State Weekly, with New Yorkers gearing up to gather with loved ones once again this holiday season, state and local health officials are ramping up vaccinations efforts to get more people immunized as the rate of breakthrough Covid-19 cases continues to rise.

Governor Kathy Hochul is urging vaccinated New Yorkers to get their Covid-19 booster shot ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, saying earlier this week that anyone who lives in an area with a high transmission rate and who feels at risk should get a booster shot. Hochul warns that safe holiday gatherings are not guaranteed if people don’t remain vigilant in protecting themselves, and others, against the virus.

Health officials at the State and Federal level echoing the Governor’s concerns. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, with a virus that’s as highly transmissible as the Delta variant of Covid-19, along with additional factors such as waning immunity, the combination is going to negatively impact even those who are fully vaccinated.

Dr. Thomas Russo, the Chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at the University at Buffalo, joins us to discuss the importance of getting a booster shot before gathering with loved ones this holiday season. According to Dr. Russo, the protective responses of Covid vaccines begins to fade among individuals who have been fully vaccinated for 6 months or longer.

Dr. Russo also calls attention to boosting vaccination rates among children. “Even though our children do pretty well, they are not bulletproof,” says Dr. Russo. “Unfortunately there’s been over 750 deaths and of course children can experience long Covid and there’s potential long-term consequences.” Dr. Russo reiterating that vaccinating our children will keep both our households, and our schools safer. “It’s not only great for the health of our children, but it’s great for the overall health of our community.”

Meanwhile, new visitation guidance is now in place for nursing homes across New York State. The State Health Department has lifted all visitation restrictions, meaning that nursing home residents will now be allowed full access to visitors regardless of vaccine status. Under the updated guidance, nursing facilities will not be able to limit the number of people visiting a resident nor will they be able to limit the duration of the visit, or deny a resident their right to see visitors.

This new guidance comes as religious exemptions for unvaccinated health care workers in New York comes to an end on Monday, November 22nd. Employees who initially claimed religious exemptions to the State’s health care worker vaccine mandate must have their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by then or risk losing their job, unless they can provide a valid medical exemption to their employer.

Stephan Hanse, President and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association, shares his insight on what the updated guidance means for residents of these facilities. Despite the lifting of visitation restrictions, facilities will still require visitors to mask up, especially in areas with high transmission rates. Hanse says preventative safeguards will remain in place at these facilities to further curb potential Covid transmission. 89% of all nursing home residents are vaccinated statewide and another 8% have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to Hanse.

Hanse also addresses the ongoing staffing shortages at nursing homes and long-term care facilities. To combat this, Hanse says New York State needs to increase its Medicaid reimbursement rate to nursing homes and dedicate that reimbursement rate to recruiting and retaining staff so that nursing homes can compete with other employers in the marketplace. This in addition to implementing initiatives that bring individuals into the long-term care field to see that it’s truly a fulfilling career.

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