President Joe Biden's administration will require that nursing home staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition for those facilities to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding, the president announced Wednesday evening.
The news was first reported by CNN.
Biden unveiled the new policy Wednesday afternoon in a White House address as the administration continues to look for ways to use mandates to encourage vaccine holdouts to get shots.
“If you work in a nursing home and serve those on Medicare and Medicaid, you will be required to get vaccinated,” Biden said in a speech from the White House, later adding: “With this announcement, I am using the power of the federal government as a payer of healthcare costs to reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors. These steps are all about keeping people safe and out of harm's way.”
The new mandate, in the form of a forthcoming regulation to be issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, could take effect as soon as next month.
Hundreds of thousands of nursing home workers are not vaccinated, according to federal data, despite those facilities bearing the brunt of the early COVID-19 outbreak and their workers being among the first in the country to be eligible for shots.
Over 130,000 COVID-19 deaths can be tied to nursing homes, even though around 82% of residents per facility have been vaccinated nationwide. The rate of vaccinations among nursing home workers is dramatically lower, with around 60% of workers on average having completed a vaccine regimen.
The nursing home mandate comes as the Biden administration seeks to raise the costs for those who have yet to get vaccinated, after months of incentives and giveaways proved to be insufficient to drive tens of millions of Americans to roll up their sleeves.
In just the past three weeks, Biden has forced millions of federal workers to attest to their vaccination status or face onerous new requirements, with even stricter requirements for federal workers in frontline health roles, and his administration has moved toward mandating vaccines for the military as soon as next month.
"If you walk into a government office building, you should know federal workers are doing everything possible to keep you safe. If you are a veteran seeking care at a VA hospital, you should not be a greater risk than you were outside the hospital," the president said Wednesday. "Now, 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 also celebrated businesses that have mandated vaccines for their own workforces and encouraged others to follow, and highlighted local vaccine mandates as a condition for daily activities, like indoor dining.
"I am proud to see the private sector stepping up," Biden said of the mandates, naming AT&T, Amtrak and McDonald's as leaders in the push.
The new effort seems to be paying off, as the nation’s rate of new vaccinations has nearly doubled over the past month. More than 200 million Americans have now received at least one dose of the vaccines, according to the White House, but about 80 million Americans are eligible but haven’t yet been vaccinated.
Mark Parkinson, the president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, praised the decision to mandate vaccines for nursing home workers, but called on the administration to go further.
“Vaccination mandates for health care personnel should be applied to all health care settings,” he said. “Without this, nursing homes face a disastrous workforce challenge.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.