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Aged care workers left in the dark about COVID-19 vaccines

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been labelled a "giant stuff-up" by aged care workers with an industry survey finding staff have been left in the dark around when or where they should be vaccinated even though they were meant to be a part of the Government rollouts first phase.

The initial aim was to vaccinate aged care staff alongside residents, however, the slow rollout to aged care residents and low available vaccine doses caused some issues to that plan. [Source: iStock]
The initial aim was to vaccinate aged care staff alongside residents, however, the slow rollout to aged care residents and low available vaccine doses caused some issues to that plan. [Source: iStock]

The survey was released by the United Workers Union yesterday which found that 214 of the 250 aged care workers, 85 percent, that participated in the survey had not yet received their first COVID-19 vaccination.

Nearly two-thirds of the aged care workers surveyed had reported that their facilities were only offering the COVID-19 vaccine to staff as "leftovers" after the residents were vaccinated.

Aged Care Director of the United Workers Union, Carolyn Smith, says, "It’s a disgrace that in the shadow of Anzac Day, COVID-19 vaccinations meant to protect older Australians and aged care workers have been delayed.

"The survey highlights failures in the COVID-19 vaccine roll out that was supposed to prioritise aged care workers as Phase 1a with on-site vaccinations kicking off in late February.

"The survey findings indicate many aged care residents and aged care workers going without any COVID-19 vaccinations at all."

Ms Smith says that the low number of aged care workers vaccinated suggests that the initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan was a failure.

She adds that the Government has failed to meet its responsibilities to keep older Australians safe and raises questions about the way aged care workers have been treated during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

"If the goal is to protect older Australians and aged care workers, these survey findings suggest COVID-19 vaccinations in aged care are not happening fast enough, widely enough or well enough," says Ms Smith.

The survey highlighted a lot of concern and uncertainty around where to get vaccinated, with 84 aged care workers saying they were told to get the vaccinated outside of their aged care facility, including 63 of those aged care workers being told to go to their GP, call a Government hotline or to visit the Government website.

About three-quarters of survey respondents reported negative views of the Government vaccine rollout and had marked the rollout as a fail.

On Tuesday, Secretary of the Department of Health, Brendan Murphy, and Associate Secretary of the Department of Health, Caroline Edwards, admitted to a Senate committee that the rollout in aged care had been a slower start than expected.

"The only group in 1a that will still have a significant amount of work to do is the aged care workforce, and because of the changes to the AstraZeneca recommendation," says Mr Murphy.

The Department admitted to prioritising aged care residents over disability residents so they could get older vulnerable people in residential aged care facilities vaccinated. Aged care workers also seemed to be put on the backburner for aged care residents.

Ms Caroline says, "When we discovered aged care residents was a more difficult and lengthy process than we anticipated, we did focus on aged care residents.

"Not because disability residents are any less priority, but because we know that the absolute most at risk people in the community, both during what we experienced here and overseas and through medical advice, are elderly people in aged care facilities."

The initial aim was to vaccinate staff alongside residents, however, the slow rollout to aged care residents and low available vaccine doses caused some issues to that plan.

The Union says that aged care workers have told them that they have been left feeling frustrated, ignored and unprotected.

An aged care worker from Queensland said, "Outrageous that they would come to a facility and vaccinate the residents, but the people who come and go and in turn could bring the COVID into the facility are not bothered with. Absolute joke."

A Western Australia aged care worker said, "Personally I feel like I am nothing in this industry. I don’t understand how the vaccine could be given to the elderly and not the carers."

Another aged care worker in Queensland said the leftovers in her facilities were given to the bosses and administration staff over the personal carers.

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