Denise King, a staff member at the Crown Heights Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, will receive a

Yuki Iwamura | Reuters

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday that an average of 60% of nursing home workers in the U.S. are vaccinated against Covid, a rate that leaves care facilities at higher risk of outbreaks among residents and staff.

Vaccinating more employees is one of the most important steps nursing homes can take to keep residents safe, said CDC epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Slayton at a Vaccination Practices Agency Advisory Committee meeting on Wednesday. Although giving booster doses to residents can help limit cases, nursing homes remain prone to outbreaks if staff choose not to vaccinate, Slayton said.

“Even with highly effective boosters, community coverage is high in our model,” said Slayton. “This suggests that there will continue to be Covid-19 cases in nursing homes, underscoring the need for further infection prevention and control strategies.”

Slayton said Covid case projections predict a decrease in infections as staff vaccination rates increased and residents received an additional third dose. Although Covid infections continued to occur in Slayton’s model as more employees were vaccinated, she saw a decrease in symptomatic cases among residents associated with higher staff vaccination rates.

Slayton’s report came as the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration weigh up whether to approve Pfizer’s Covid booster doses, a decision that could be made by Thursday.

Nursing homes are particularly badly affected by the Delta variant, officials said at the ACIP meeting. From March 1 to May 9, the National Healthcare Safety Network reported 17,407 Covid cases per week in 3,862 nursing homes. But when the Delta variant rose from June 20 to August 1, the NHSN recorded 85,593 Covid cases per week in 14,917 nursing homes.

To curb the Delta variant, on August 18, President Joe Biden issued a vaccination mandate for staff in around 15,000 nursing homes that provide Medicare or Medicaid residents. The Biden government will block Medicare and Medicaid funding for any nursing home that does not comply.

Some nursing home operators even announced vaccine requirements before Biden’s guidelines. Cindy Baier, CEO of Brookdale Senior Living, told CNBC on Aug. 6 about her employee vaccination mandate to protect residents who are most susceptible to Covid complications.