Booster shots lag at Florida senior centers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As the threat of omicron closes in, there’s a renewed push to get long-term care residents and staff fully vaccinated and boosted.

According to AARP, Florida lags behind the national average with only about 23% of nursing home residents fully vaccinated and boosted. That compares to 38% nationally.

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Only 9% of staffers have received the booster, compared to 15% across the country.

Experts argue boosters will help boost antibodies. It’s simple math for Doug Adkins, the executive director of Daysprings Senior Living.

“The booster shots are a critical part of the formula,” he told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant.

All of his staff and residents have received the booster. A partnership with CVS helped bring the shots directly to the Hilliard facility in September.

Experts argue boosters are one of the strongest tools in the fight against omicron.

According to AARP data, cases were down to about 0.4 cases per 100 residents in Florida last month.

Booster help boost antibodies, which Adkins said is the key to keeping doors open at Daysprings Senior Living.

They track all of the antibody counts for both residents and staff. Those numbers then dictate the level of precautions the facility will take based on a red, yellow, or green scale. The center is one of the first in the nation to do so.

“Those are things we have come to the conclusion that we think is a way to protect people without going through serious lockdowns,” Adkins said.

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In Jacksonville, Rosecastle at Deerwood has kept its doors open and avoided lockdowns through the holidays partially because all residents and staff are vaccinated.

Steve and Mary Daniel got to enjoy the holiday together with family as a result.

But Mary said the threat of omicron is becoming a greater concern.

“Everybody is sort of on guard worried about what may be coming in our direction,” she said. “We believe that [lockdowns] are going to happen again. We believe the facilities understand they have the power to do it.”

She’s taking her fight to keep them open to the state legislature in January.

Mary and her Facebook group, Caregivers for Compromise, plan on passing out books to legislators titled “Saving them to death” that shares the stories of long term care residents.

“You have to look into the eyes of these people dying behind these windows to really understand what this isolation did for them,” she explained.

She’s looking to pass a bill that will require facilities to allow essential caregivers like herself to visit with patients for at least two hours even during a health emergency.

The legislation also lays out a list of guidelines for precautions during the pandemic and provides structure.

“That was our biggest frustration. One facility would be across the street from another one and both would do completely different things,” Mary said.

She said the booster shot gives some peace of mind that her husband is safe and his facility won’t go into a lockdown again.