The ACT Government has rejected a vaccination blitz of all residential aged-care staff following a similar move in Victoria, with Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith saying there is no challenge in getting a vaccination appointment in the ACT.
Staff are able to book directly with ACT Health to avoid waiting in booking queues and an in-reach communication program is being undertaken to encourage staff to get vaccinated, the government confirmed.
Additionally, each facility has an outbreak plan that was created with the support of ACT Health last year, Ms Stephen-Smith said.
“We will absolutely continue to work with residential aged-care facilities,” she said. “It is really important that each facility encourage and support its staff to get vaccinated and each of them understands which of their staff has been vaccinated and who hasn’t.”
“That is absolutely critical to outbreak planning.”
Just under 650 aged care staff and non-residents have been vaccinated in the ACT; a further 600 had received their first dose.
While the breakdown did not provide the total amount of workers in the ACT, just under 9 per cent of aged care staff nationally had been fully vaccinated, and just under 11 per cent had received one dose.
Almost one-in-five aged care residents in visited aged care facilities across the ACT were unvaccinated as of 30 May.
Ms Stephen-Smith said it was important to note that the vaccine was not mandatory so some people in residential care may have chosen not to have the jab and new residents were coming in all the time, so some may have missed previous in-reach programs.
“We will continue to work with the Commonwealth to understand how they are continuing those in-reach programs to reach new people, people who might have changed their minds or are new residents in aged care,” she said.
“It is important that the Commonwealth keep going back to residential aged care facilities and ensure as many residents are vaccinated as possible.”
The national number raised concerns with ACT Senator Katy Gallagher, who chastised Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck at Senate Estimates hearings yesterday (1 June).
Three-in-four COVID-19 deaths in Australia have been in aged care, and around 84 per cent of the first cases reported in Victorian aged-care facilities were introduced by staff, according to Victorian Department of Health and Human Services data from April.
Two residential aged-care workers and one resident have tested positive in Victoria’s current outbreak.
Senator Gallagher was incredulous that the Victorian state government had to undergo a five-day vaccine blitz to vaccinate residential aged care and disability care staff, who were supposed to be included in the Commonwealth Government’s in-reach program.
Staff at private facilities, which the Commonwealth manages, will be able to skip the queues at state-run vaccination facilities.
“Why is the state government having to step up and do this?” Senator Gallagher asked Senator Colbeck.
“They are doing your job.”
The ACT Government has recently begun playing a greater role in the vaccine’s rollout for disability care residents – a Commonwealth responsibility – by giving Canberrans with a disability special access to the Garran vaccination centre.
Department of Health associate secretary Caroline Edwards noted that the number of vaccinated staff was an underestimate as staff have been able to access the jab through other sources, such as their GPs and state and territory-run clinics.
The federal health department is currently conducting a survey to find out how many staff have been vaccinated.
Senator Colbeck said that had the government known the vaccine stopped transmission of COVID-19 at the start of the rollout, the vaccination of staff would have been different.
Such advice is still being considered by the government’s principal health advisory committee, the AHPPC, at the moment, Senator Colbeck said.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said all residential aged care and disability care staff should have been vaccinated, but it would be almost impossible to achieve considering that vaccination was not mandatory.
“While we are not having mandatory vaccinations as a national policy, it will be difficult to single particular occupations out,” he said.
“There will always be circumstances where that may not be medically appropriate, or there will be a valid reason why not.
“But there can be strong encouragement, and there might be circumstances where the advice is such that the risk to others would outweigh the personal human rights question.”
Mr Barr said that Australia had not learned a lesson from aged-care outbreaks in the past.
“There are going to be mistakes made in a pandemic, but you want to avoid making the same mistake twice,” he said.
“I get the sense that we as a nation, and a collection of governments, have not learned from a couple of mistakes or not moved fast enough.”