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Aged care sector among first to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Aged care staff and residents will be included in the first phase of administered COVID-19 immunisations in mid to late February once the vaccines have been approved by Australian experts.

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People in aged care and older Australians are a top priority group for the COVID-19 vaccination. [Source: iStock]

The Pfizer vaccine and AstraZeneca vaccine will be delivered to the population over a five-phase priority system that is outlined within the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Policy released in November 2020.

High priority aged care groups will be included in this phase along with quarantine and border workers, frontline health care groups, and disability staff and residents.

The Federal Government is optimistic that the first week of vaccinations will reach around 80,000 immunisations of the Phase 1a group.

Prime Minister (PM) Scott Morrison says the vaccine approval process has been fast-tracked, but it isn't cutting corners when it comes to ensuring that the vaccines are fit for purpose.

"The vaccination in 2021 is a key component, obviously, of how we're dealing with the pandemic here in Australia. Throughout the course of dealing with this pandemic, we have been dealing with this in a very Australian way," says PM Morrison.

"Once the vaccination starts, COVIDSafe practises do not end. They continue. COVIDSafe practises will be a 2021 lived experience, they will continue. The vaccine both here in Australia, and around the world, will continue to be rolled out, but it will still be a fight over the course of 2021.

"But this will add a very, very significant further defence and offence I should also say, in combating the virus here in Australia... there is still a lot still to be learnt about these vaccines and how they impact - that is in terms of transmissibility and issues of that nature. And that's why COVIDSafe behaviours and other arrangements will still be necessary over the course of this year."

Australians will not be required to get the vaccine if they do not want to, as the Australian Government has not made it mandatory, however, they are aiming to get as many Australians vaccinated as possible.

The second priority group, Phase 1b, will include people over the age of 70 years old, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are over the age of 55, all other healthcare workers, younger adults with an underlying health condition or disability, and high-risk workers, like emergency services personnel.

The third phase, Phase 2a, will include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people between the age of 18-54, Australians over 50 years old, and other high-risk or critical workers.

The last two phases, Phase 2b and 3, will include the rest of the unimmunised adult population and children, but only if children are recommended to.

There will be 30-50 hospital sites around Australia providing vaccine doses to the first priority group. All patients must provide consent before receiving a vaccination.

Secretary of the Department of Health, Professor Brendan Murphy, says this vaccine will be really important for the aged care sector, which has seen the most deaths from COVID-19.

"We know we've seen the tragic consequences of outbreaks in residential aged care. So aged care facilities and the workers who can spread the virus generally will be a high priority," explains Professor Murphy.

Chief Medical Officer of Australia, Professor Paul Kelly, adds that while this vaccination step is important within the current Australian pandemic plan, the vaccine is not a 'silver bullet' that will solve the coronavirus problem.

"It fits into and strengthens all of those things that we have in our pandemic control strategy. It will continue to include all of those personal behaviour issues that people know all about right now," says Professor Kelly.

"It will include the test, trace and isolate component and the excellent work being done in the States and Territories right now dealing with the outbreaks that we have in Sydney and Melbourne and other places.

"So it's part of that story. It's a very exciting new part of that story."

For information about COVID-19 vaccines or the Federal vaccination policy, visit the Department of Health website.

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