A Lehigh Valley county plans to pay $750 to employees at one it its nursing homes as a way of encouraging them to get immunized against the coronavirus.
The Northampton County Council on Thursday approved the plan to pay employees at the Gracedale Nursing Home if they receive their dose of COVID-19 vaccine. While the county cannot legally mandate that employees get vaccinated, the $750 will provide an incentive that will protect both workers and residents, County Executive Lamont McClure said.
“At one point in Northampton County this year, 85% of the people who died from COVID-19 lived in a nursing home, so it’s vitally important that our residents and our staff get the COVID-19 vaccination,” he said.
As of Dec. 8, the latest available data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there had been 256 COVID-19 infections among residents at the Gracedale Nursing Home, as well as 76 deaths. Additionally, 75 staffers had been infected with the virus.
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Jerry Green, president of the United Steelworkers Local 2599, which represents Gracedale's registered nurses and social workers, said he agreed with the county's decision to greenlight payments for vaccines, and added that the move will save lives of both residents and employees.
Statewide, nursing home residents made up at least 8,047 of Pennsylvania’s 13,608 coronavirus deaths as of Dec. 17, according to the department of health.
Dr. Rachel Levine, the state’s health secretary, said vaccines will be available to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities starting Dec. 28.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine. The agency is expected to soon approve Moderna’s shot, as well.
Though some have expressed concern about getting immunized, federal and local officials have sought to assuage those fears as they seek to have people get voluntarily vaccinated. On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence publicly received a dose of the Pfizer vaccine, assuring the American people that is “safe and effective.”
Likewise, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie that he “is ready to go” and hopes to receive his shot sometime next week.
White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told NBC10 last week that he and most governors with whom she has spoken believe people will get the required shots voluntarily as they realize how safe and effective the vaccines are.
Nonetheless, the vaccine supply is currently limited, and it will take months to get the general public inoculated. In the meantime, public health experts say people should continue taking precautions against COVID-19, including wearing face masks, maintaining social distance and avoiding gatherings with people not in their immediate household.