Michigan nursing homes ordered to offer on-site booster shot

David Eggert
Associated Press

Lansing – Michigan’s health director on Thursday ordered nursing homes to offer on-site booster shots to residents who are not up to date on the COVID-19 vaccine in a state that lags others in vaccinating people in long-term care facilities.

The facilities must comply within 30 days.

Nearly 75% of eligible nursing home residents have gotten a booster dose. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in December set a goal of getting 95% of eligible nursing home residents a booster by the end of January.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel.

The average percentages of fully vaccinated residents and staff among reporting Michigan nursing homes are about 85% and 70% – the 13th- and fifth-lowest averages in the U.S., according to the federal government. The number of vaccinated health care employees in nursing homes could soon rise because of a federal mandate – upheld by the Supreme Court – requiring vaccinations for most U.S. health care workers.

The deadlines for the first and second shots are Jan. 27 and Feb. 28.

Elizabeth Hertel, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said vaccinations are even more important because the rapidly spreading omicron variant can more readily evade people’s immunity from vaccines and past infections.

More: Michigan auditor general: Unfair to call nursing home COVID count an 'under-report'

“We want to make sure our most vulnerable Michiganders are protected from the virus,” she said in a written statement.

The order does not require nursing home residents to be vaccinated.

It came the same day that Republican-led legislative committees held a joint hearing to review state auditors’ recent report that found nearly 2,400 more COVID-19 deaths tied to long-term care facilities than the 5,675 reported by the state as of July, including 1,335 linked to facilities that must report such deaths. GOP lawmakers cited the figures while again questioning the Democratic governor’s orders, which her administration has said were not enforced, requiring nursing homes to admit or readmit recovering coronavirus patients early in the pandemic.

Hertel, as she did previously, disputed the accuracy of the review – saying she has faith that facilities accurately self-report deaths to the state because they could lose their license otherwise.

“Without somebody coming down and doing a standardized audit of facilities, I’m concerned that the numbers that you’re depending on can’t be depended on by us,” said Sen. Ed McBroom, a Vulcan Republican who chairs the Senate Oversight Committee.