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Covid booster vaccine uptake in care homes ‘worryingly low’ as rollout leaves vulnerable residents behind

Exclusive analysis by NationalWorld has revealed how residents in older adult care homes are less likely to have had a booster dose than older people in the community.

Elderly care home residents are being left behind in the booster rollout in England and Scotland despite promises to prioritise them, analysis by NationalWorld suggests.

Age UK says the number of care home residents who have received boosters is “worryingly low”, according to official statistics.

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The charity was responding to analysis by NationalWorld which has uncovered significant gaps in booster coverage among older adult care home residents compared to the rest of the population.

Older adult care homes serve people aged 65 and over - although there could be a small number of younger residents.

New data from NHS England shows 72.5% of the 316,000 residents living in such homes across England had received a booster dose as of 28 November.

That proportion may be an underestimate, as not all care homes have reported how many of their residents have had a booster.

Analysis of data for the general population shows 80.7% of people aged 65 and over had had a booster (or third primary dose, for people with severely compromised immune systems) by the same date.

The general population also includes the group of care home residents - meaning the gap between those living in care homes and those in the community will be wider still.

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The NHS figures on booster vaccines given to care home residents may be incomplete, missing some instances where a full third dose was given instead. Full third doses are offered to severely immunocompromised people, such as those undergoing chemotherapy or organ transplant recipients.

The NHS could not say how many care home residents were eligible for a third dose rather than a booster. But care home managers are unable to log third doses in the Government’s vaccine tracking system, so may log them as boosters anyway.

The same pattern in care homes has emerged in Scotland – where both boosters and third doses are counted – with a slightly narrower gap.

Public Health Scotland data shows 85.9% of older adult care home residents had been vaccinated with a booster or third dose as of 30 November, compared to 88.8% of the general 65 and over population.

Public Health Wales figures do not distinguish between older and younger care home residents. However, coverage for care home residents of any age was higher than for the general 65 and over population as of 28 November – 81.8% versus 79.1%.

No data is available on care home vaccinations in Northern Ireland.

In both England and Scotland, vaccination coverage for the general population is calculated based on mid-2020 population estimates by the Office for National Statistics. Uptake in care homes however is based on more live snapshots, given the number of residents is in flux.

NHS England told NationalWorld it was inaccurate to suggest care home residents were not a priority, pointing to an announcement made at the start of November that it had offered booster appointments to all care homes, six weeks after the start of the rollout.

But Care England, which represents providers, said there may be many reasons for a resident not to be jabbed during initial visits to their home by a GP - such as having had Covid too recently - and that follow up visits were vital to catch everyone.

With GPs now busier than they were in earlier vaccine rollouts, that process could prove more difficult, it said.

Care England said the providers it represents have not been reporting concerns with the rollout, however.

The booster rollout in England began on 16 September and in Scotland on 20 September. Both countries prioritised older care home residents from the outset.

Until recently, people were only eligible for a booster if they had a second dose at least six months ago, as well as falling into a priority group.

The gap has now been cut to three months in both countries, following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, in response to the Omicron threat.

Detailed data on the booster rollout, with location, age and other demographic breakdowns, was only published last week (25 November), two months after the programme began.

Professor Jennifer Rogers from the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) said the lack of figures had been “frustrating”.

Speaking early last week, she said: “The booster vaccine will play a crucial role in our ability to tackle Covid over the winter months, so it’s essential we have the full picture on progress so far.”

Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, said: “The pandemic is far from over, and now with the concerns raised by the emergence of the Omicron variant it’s imperative that we protect those who are at greatest risk from the virus, who include care home residents and older people who are housebound.

“According to these statistics the numbers who have received their boosters so far are worryingly low.”

She added however that the figures could “understate the true position” because of a lag between people receiving a booster and the official government data reflecting this.

NHS England said care homes are a priority, and that it is underway with repeat visits to ensure all residents get a vaccine.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ““We remain on track with Scotland’s booster programme, which is ahead of all other UK nations, and has been prioritising the most vulnerable by either inviting them to come forward for a vaccination or by visiting in settings such as care homes.

“The winter vaccination programme has already delivered more than 1.7 million booster doses to the most vulnerable groups.”

NationalWorld initially contacted the Department for Health and Social Care for a response but it declined to comment, deferring instead to NHS England.

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