West Australian Premier Mark McGowan will introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for aged care workers in his state, and there are calls for the rest of Australia to follow suit.
Mandatory vaccinations for aged care workers were discussed by national cabinet recently and while there was strong support for the idea, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has advised against the move, arguing that it would lead to some workers quitting rather than having the vaccine.
Concerns about a staffing shortfall in an already overstretched workforce meant most other states backed away from endorsing mandatory vaccinations, but the Australian Financial Review(AFR) reports that WA will go it alone.
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West Australia has been one of the strongest states with regard to the vaccine, with Mr McGowan mandating the vaccination of hotel quarantine workers earlier this year.
He told the AFR that requiring aged care workers to be vaccinated was no different to them being made to have the flu shot, which is compulsory in most states and territories.
The mandatory vaccinations would begin in August and the workers would be offered the Pfizer vaccine, which allows for a faster pathway to complete protection.
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“People who are elderly are very vulnerable and obviously the workforce is a potential source of infection for people … therefore getting the workforce vaccinated is very important,” Mr McGowan told the AFR.
“We do it for flu vaccination … so extending it for COVID is a good thing to do.”
Aged care advocacy group Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) is urging other states in Australia to follow West Australia’s lead.
Their call comes as new Essential Report polling found about half (49 per cent) of Australians think residents and workers at aged care and disability facilities are being vaccinated more slowly than they would like.
ACSA chairperson Sara Blunt said that aged care providers want the vaccination rollout for workers and residents fast-tracked to help protect vulnerable residents.
“Vaccinating aged care residents and the workforce is an essential protection for older Australians, particularly as COVID circulation and outbreaks continue in the community,” Ms Blunt said.
“Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Queensland have made positive moves towards giving aged care workers priority access at their vaccination hubs, but we must step up the effort.
“We support the introduction of mandatory covid vaccines for both residential and home care workers, with appropriate exemptions on medical and other significant grounds.
“This must be done in a way that increases vaccination rates without adversely impacting on workforce numbers, at a time when the sector needs more workers to support the extra demands of COVID and the implementation of the royal commission reforms.
“Governments showed during the pandemic how quickly and co-operatively they could work during a crisis. Let’s see the same ingenuity and urgency applied by Australian governments to safeguard tens of thousands of lives with greater vaccination of aged care residents and workers,” Ms Blunt said.
After the last National Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the AHPPC would need to provide premiers with a model on how to mandate vaccination “that would be suitable and safe from a medical perspective and taking into account the balancing risks that you would have to consider, and the issue of putting strain on a residential aged care, in particular, and disability care workforce”.
“We are leaning heavily into this, make no mistake, we are leaning heavily into this as leaders of governments and myself as Prime Minister, to see us move towards a mandatory vaccination for aged care workers,” Mr Morrison said.
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