11 August 2021

ACT lagging in race to get aged care workers vaccinated before 17 September deadline

| Dominic Giannini
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Nurse preparing COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine

National Cabinet agreed that all residential aged care staff would need to have at least one jab before mid-September. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Less than 40 per cent of Canberra’s residential aged care staff have received at least one jab, well below the national average of 56 per cent, and just over a month out from the National Cabinet mandated deadline of 100 per cent by 17 September.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said while there had been an increase in these workers getting vaccinated in the ACT, the Commonwealth Government “needed to get on board here and do more”.

“With five weeks to go … the program needs to accelerate, there is no doubt about that,” he said.

Vaccinating residential aged care residents and workers is led by the Federal Government, which did not include staff in its first in-reach vaccination programs. Frontline workers were the first cohort eligible to receive the vaccine in February.

ACT Health said it continued to conduct a “comprehensive and targeted communications” campaign to promote the benefits of vaccination and how to receive vaccination in the ACT.

But a spokesperson for the Health Directorate admitted there was more work to do as the mid-September deadline approaches.

Residential aged care and disability care workers are given priority access to the Territory-run vaccination hubs, with 2000 appointments at the Pfizer hubs set aside each week for the cohort.

Goodwin Aged Cares Services CEO Sue Levy told Region Media she was confident her workforce would receive their first dose before the mid-September deadline.

“We have worked closely with staff, answering their questions and helping to ensure they have access to receive a vaccination,” she said.

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But concerns have been raised about other aged care services reaching the deadline, especially as a new report found Australia was already facing massive challenges within the aged care workforce.

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia’s Duty of Care report, released yesterday (10 August), found Australia would need an additional 100,000 workers in the sector over the next decade to meet demand from an ageing population and rising life expectancy rates.

CEDA Chief Economist Jarrod Ball said the aged care sector was already understaffed, “leading to care that is below world standards as highlighted by the aged-care royal commission”.

Hon Anthony Albanese MP, Chief Minister Andrew Barr MLA.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Chief Minister Andrew Barr MLA. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday (9 August), Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said every aged care facility in Australia has a plan to “complete that vaccination process” before the deadline, although an exceptional circumstance provision is in place in case of lockdowns.

Mr Hunt said that while no state or territory has mandated a residential aged care staff vaccination health direction yet, there was no reason why they would not do so.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard expressed frustration at Mr Hunt’s comments at Tuesday’s (10 August) COVID-19 update, saying the Federal Government had not asked him to put in place a health direction for a sector it was responsible for.

“The Federal Government is responsible for aged care. If they can tell us now and gave us that direction, I’d happily do it but it’s their facility, their regulation and they’re responsible,” he said.

“They need to make sure that the area they regulate is actually getting what is needed, and they need to make sure that the vaccines are getting to them as well. The NSW Government has stepped up to help the Federal Government in getting vaccinations for aged care workers.

“You might recollect that originally the Federal Government said that they would address all of that and they vaccinated a number of residents in aged care. They didn’t vaccinate the staff and I guess that was a supply issue, but I’m not sure why they didn’t when they had people on deck at the aged care facilities.”

READ ALSO ‘Threat hanging over us’: young Canberrans concerned about the impact of delta strain

ACT Health confirmed the Chief Health Officer would put the direction in place prohibiting workers from entering or remaining at a residential aged care facility unless vaccinated by 17 September.

Mr Morrison said on Monday (9 August) that the Commonwealth had been working with aged care facilities, with vaccination levels of residents “way higher” than 80 per cent.

“This has been one of the highest taskings of Operation COVID Shield and [Coordinator of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce Lieutenant] General Frewen, and they’ve been working through it systematically,” he said following Parliament on Monday.

“That is proving to be enormously helpful in preventing what we saw in Victoria last year which was terrible. This year, in Sydney, and the outbreak we have seen there, the double dose vaccinations have proved to be extremely effective.”

Mr Barr said the ACT was likely the only jurisdiction to have more than 90 per cent of each age cohort above 70 vaccinated.

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