Australia’s deadline to have aged care staff receive at least one vaccine shot is only three weeks away, but there are concerns the target will not be met on time.
The data provided by the federal health department shows just 551 centres – or 19 per cent – of aged care homes have vaccinated more than 90 per cent of their workers with a single dose.
An analysis of the data by The Guardian found that 582 centres have vaccinated less than 50 per cent of their workforce with a single dose, while 60 centres have vaccinated less than 20 per cent of their workforce, including 18 centres with vaccination rates below 10 per cent.
In June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that national cabinet had agreed to require staff at aged care facilities to have at least one dose of a vaccine by 17 September, following advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.
The analysis shows there is a wide disparity between service providers, with many well on target for reaching the deadline and others falling well behind.
According to the analysis, Anglican Care, which operates a number of centres in NSW, was one of the worst vaccine performers, while Ballarat Health Services in Victoria was one of the best.
Aged care is a particularly high priority for vaccination, given that most of the deaths in Victoria last year came from across this sector.
As a result of those deaths, aged care workers were initially listed among the priority recipients of the vaccine rollout in April, but despite this the rate of vaccination uptake has still been low.
National president of the Health Services Union (HSU) Gerard Hayes told The Guardian that the vaccine mandate should be abandoned or it could force the sector into crisis.
“This is a workforce that is already under stress, both physically and emotionally, and now the government has said ‘do this or else’ as opposed to encouragement,” Mr Hayes said.
“Give people a reason to leave and they will. We will have people sitting in incontinence pads with nobody to change them, we will have people existing and not living, we will have people with no dignity at all.”
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the ABC that states had to take responsibility for aged care centres meeting the deadline, even though aged care is a federal responsibility.
“Only a few states have actually mandated it under their public health orders,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“I think South Australia is one, I think Western Australia is another. It is important that all the states take that action, as agreed at national cabinet.
“That will be obviously important, not just for the aged care workers’ own health, but of course the people that they seek to support.”
A spokesperson for the department of health told The Guardian that the governments of Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, and the Northern Territory had all released public health directions to implement the national cabinet decision, while the NSW order was expected soon.
“Each state and territory will determine the scope of workforce and any exemptions that may apply. Failure to comply with these directions will be a matter for each jurisdiction.
“The Department of Health is working with each residential aged care facility to ensure plans are in place, and to provide support where needed, to ensure every residential aged care worker has access to a COVID-19 vaccination prior to 17 September.”
Labor senator Deborah O’Neill attacked the Morrison government’s performance on rolling out the vaccine for the aged care workforce in Parliament on Tuesday, saying it had failed to deliver on its promises.
“He [Morrison] promised to vaccinate all people living and working in residential aged care by Easter,” Senator O’Neill said. “What have Australians actually got? More than 40 per cent of aged care staff still haven’t had their first shot!
“Despite making vaccines mandatory in the aged care sector by 17 September, the government’s failed rollout means that the aged care sector – a large section of the workforce – will see these workers sacked or the government will push back its deadline again due to its complete and utter failure.”
Are you worried about the vaccination rate of aged care workers? Should the government be providing more support to ensure this workforce is fully vaccinated to protect the elderly? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?
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