From 15 June, all residential aged care facilities will be required to report on how many of their staff have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
While the new reporting mechanism will catch further data around staff inoculation, it is only voluntary for staff and does not require aged care workers to disclose if they have been vaccinated.
The new online reporting tool will record de-identified data on aged care workers at each aged care service and the number of staff that have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or are fully vaccinated.
Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, says this reporting mechanism will strengthen Australia's COVID-19 preparedness and response, and help the Government understand the level of risk at each aged care facility in the event of an outbreak and how best they can support the facility and their workers.
"Approved providers are now able to trial the reporting tool on a voluntary basis via My Aged Care. This will assist providers in familiarising themselves with the reporting format, prior to it becoming a formal requirement starting on 15 June," says Minister Hunt.
"The choice to get vaccinated and to disclose this information is voluntary but we do hope the workforce gets behind this important initiative. They will be protecting themselves, their families and the people they care for.”
Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, says the reporting process for aged care workers and the COVID-19 vaccine will be similar to those in place for documenting flu vaccinations.
"Residential aged care providers are very familiar with the process of recording staff vaccinations from their experience with mandatory record-keeping on flu vaccination. This will be an extension of that process," explains Minister Colbeck.
Last week, the Department of Health was raked across the coals by a Senate Committee for poor data collection on the number of aged care workers in Australia who have been inoculated.
Senators Kate Gallagher and Murray Watt were not happy with the data collection of vaccinated aged care workers by the Department of Health as well as the misinterpreted vaccination numbers that were put forward by Minister Hunt at press conferences.
Less than 10 percent (8.9 percent) of the aged care workforce has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The numbers provided to the Senate Estimates were described as "untidy" and "rushed" by the Associate Secretary of the Health Department, Caroline Edwards, as they didn't prepare the data beforehand for their hearing.
The data provided last week showed 32,833 staff across the country were fully vaccinated and a further 1,887 were vaccinated, but the department was unsure whether it was a first or second dose.
However, Minister Hunt was originally telling the media that over 70,000 aged care workers were vaccinated in the country. It is believed that Minister Hunt had confused the number of doses provided to aged care workers as the number of staff that had been fully vaccinated.
Senator Watt said to the Minister for Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, that it seems odd that the Government wouldn't realise that inoculating aged care staff would be another way to protect residents in aged care.
"Minister, what we have established today is that everyone knows that aged care is a high risk setting. Eighty-five percent, or thereabouts, of the last Victorian outbreaks were caused by staff who were unvaccinated bringing COVID in.
"What we've established [Tuesday] is that only half of the Victorian aged care residents have had their second dose. One-third of Victorian residential aged-care facilities haven't had a second dose.
"You don't know how many aged-care workers in Victoria have been vaccinated. Are you really comfortable with how this rollout is going, as you've been telling the media? It's a debacle."
The United Workers Union (UWU) said late last week that they were fed up with the "political football" of mandatory vaccinations for aged care workers put forward by the Federal Government as a "classic case of misdirection".
UWU Aged Care Director, Carolyn Smith, says, "The Federal Government’s approach [last] week has been a disgraceful political cook-up to shift blame onto workers. The vaccine rollout in Australia has been a joke.
"Aged care workers and residents have been put in harm’s way by the Federal Government’s inability to effectively provide access to the lifesaving vaccine. [Prime Minister] Scott Morrison and [Minister] Hunt have tried to use the issue of mandatory vaccination as a smokescreen for their own failure in providing vaccines to aged care workers.
"Instead of addressing the underlying problem of the ineffective vaccine rollout, Morrison and Hunt have tried to pin the blame for the crisis in aged care on workers. In a base political move, they have chosen to create a sideshow to distract from the disaster that has been the aged care vaccine rollout."
The Health Services Union (HSU) has similar feelings about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout as the UWU and adds that they have concerns about the complexity of the new reporting process.
HSU National Secretary, Lloyd Williams, says, "This reporting mechanism is adding another layer of confusion to their failed rollout.
"Ultimately whatever data they do manage to capture from this reporting will paint an inaccurate picture of vaccination coverage.
“The Government had no plan for this critical workforce to be vaccinated, now they are trying to plug the gaping rollout holes and they have no one to blame for this mess but themselves.
"It is outrageous how the aged care and disability workforces have been treated in this rollout.”
Alongside this reporting mechanism, the Federal Government is still waiting for advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) as to whether COVID-19 vaccinations should be made mandatory for the aged care workforce.