With COVID-19 infections on the rise in long-term care facilities, plans are underway to give the seniors living there booster shots likely by the end of September, officials said.

A total of 184 nursing home residents and 94 employees contracted COVID-19 in the week ended August 14, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported Wednesday.

That’s compared to 128 residents and 74 employees for the week ending August 7, reflecting the spread of the highly contagious Delta strain of COVID-19. The total number of cases in nursing homes fluctuated for most of June in the 1930s but began to rise in July.

Health care workers and long-term care centers were among the first to receive COVID-19 vaccinations in December and January when the vaccines hit the market.

The federal government recommends a booster vaccination starting eight months after a person’s second dose, and the U.S. Department of Health will likely offer those doses from the week of September 20, IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said.

“At this point, the earliest people to be fully vaccinated, including many health care providers, nursing home residents and other seniors, are likely to be eligible for a booster,” she said.

“HHS would also make efforts at this point to give booster shots directly to residents of long-term care facilities as vaccines are being distributed to these populations at the start of vaccine rollout and they continue to be at increased risk of COVID-19.”

Given the high vaccination rate, why are breakthrough cases happening in long-term care facilities?

Experts blamed the Delta variant for the fact that the residents of nursing homes live in confined spaces and that older people are more susceptible to infections.

“As you get older, the immune response is weakened, so the success of the vaccine and the ability to generate a strong antibody response are somewhat diminished,” said Dr. Mark Loafman, chairman of the family and community medicine division of Cook County Health.

“This is where the concept of a third dose comes in. There’s just a little less immunity as we get older, and it starts around the age of 50 and lasts every decade thereafter,” Loafman said.

Getting vaccines to the public was initially problematic in Illinois because vaccinations were scarce, demand was high, and there were long lines at mass locations and clinics.

Now, “Illinois has built a robust infrastructure of COVID-19 vaccine providers – pharmacies, local health departments, clinics, doctors, hospitals, and others,” Arnold said. “Federal health officials have indicated that the booster dose is given eight months after a person’s second dose so they don’t all need to be vaccinated at the same time. We will continue to monitor vaccinations and will expand plans as necessary.”

Approximately 85% of long-term care facility residents in the US are fully vaccinated against COVID-19; However, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the staffing rates are 60.5%.

In the vicinity of home “tragically, only 26.3% of nursing homes in Illinois have achieved the 75% vaccination standard for staff,” said Bob Gallo, Illinois state director for AARP, in a statement. “In contrast, 83.8% of the nursing home residents being looked after are vaccinated.”