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EDITORIAL: State’s nursing home vaccination rate is a scandal

Two surveys that show Nevada inexcusably bringing up the rear when it comes to getting COVID shots to vulnerable senior citizens are an embarrassment to Gov. Steve Sisolak and should prompt a reckoning with state and local public health officials.

Data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reveals that just 61 percent of seniors in Nevada nursing homes have received the vaccine. An analysis by the American Association of Retired Persons put the number a bit higher at 65.8 percent but also found that only 55.6 percent of staff at Nevada nursing homes had been inoculated against COVID. Both numbers are among the worst in the nation.

This is a scandal.

It’s been well-known for more than a year that the elderly are most at risk of serious complications from the coronavirus. In Nevada, those 70 and older account for about 62 percent of the state’s virus fatalities. Nursing home residents are especially vulnerable given that they are usually of advanced age and often have several underlying health conditions. Early in the pandemic, there were numerous instances of mass casualties in elderly living facilities — particularly in New York — that led public health officials to emphasize the importance of protecting seniors.

Nevada officials know where these nursing homes are, and they know who works at them. Why wasn’t there a full-court press months ago at the state level to ensure that those in this at-risk population, along with their caretakers, are vaccinated? If West Virginia can get 84 percent of its nursing home residents protected, what in the world is Nevada doing? As the delta variant leads to rising cases and Las Vegas becomes a hot spot, the matter becomes even more acute.

Nevada’s Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen sent a letter last week to Xavier Becerra, the secretary of Health and Human Services, urging him to alert the state’s nursing homes about the resources available to increase vaccination rates, calling the situation “urgent.” Apparently, they’ve lost Gov. Sisolak’s phone number. Nevada has already received billions in federal coronavirus relief money — so much cash, in fact, that it doesn’t know what to do with it all. Instead of setting up photo-ops with Mr. Becerra — who was in Las Vegas on Thursday — how about our senators insist that the governor launch a coordinated effort, complete with mobile vaccinations clinics, to ensure that workers and residents in state nursing homes receive this potentially lifesaving medication.

The fact that this hasn’t been effectively accomplished seven months after vaccines became widely available is an irradicable stain on the governor’s record. No more delays or excuses.

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