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Only half of aged care workers vaccinated as mandatory vaccine deadline approaches

The Federal Government has released national vaccination rates of aged care workers that show that only half of the workforce has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine even though the mandatory vaccination deadline for the sector is only a month away.

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The deadline for mandatory vaccinations of aged care workers is getting closer, yet only half of the aged care workforce has received at least one vaccine. [Source: Shutterstock]

Pressure is mounting by providers and unions for the Government to put more effort into assisting the workforce to get vaccinated.

As of 10 August, the total number of aged care workers is at 275,289, workers who have had at least one dose is 158,204, 58 percent, and 102,771 have had a second dose, 37 percent.

The breakdown per State and Territory are:

  • New South Wales: 81,512 staff reported by providers, 49,444 received a first dose (61 percent) and 32,056 have had a second dose (39 percent)

  • Victoria: 76,670 staff reported by providers, 51,592 have receive a first dose (67 percent) and 34,784 have had a second dose (45 percent)

  • Queensland: 52,078 staff reported by providers, 24,806 have received a first dose (52 percent) and 15,067 have had a second dose (29 percent)

  • South Australia: 28,234 staff reported by providers, 14,891 have received a first dose (53 percent) and 9,742 have had a second dose (35 percent)

  • Western Australia: 24,860 staff reported by providers, 11,363 have receive a first dose (46 percent) and 6,598 have had a second dose (27 percent)

  • Tasmania: 7,852 staff reported by providers, 4,191 have received a first dose (53 percent), and 3,082 have received a second dose (39 percent)

  • ACT: 3,145 staff reported by providers, 1,250 have received a first dose (40 percent), and 900 have received a second dose (29 percent).

  • Northern Territory: 938 staff reported by providers, 667 have received a first dose (71 percent), and 542 have had a second dose (58 percent)

Federal Government was asked at a press conference on Monday whether they were concerned about the upcoming aged care workforce vaccination deadline and what would happen to aged care workers that weren't vaccinated by that date.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison avoided answering the questions, only stating that, "We've been working closely with the aged care providers. That's what the Federal Government has been doing to achieve these rates of vaccination amongst the aged care workers."

On the weekend, the Government announced funding boosts for vaccination groups that established in reach clinics on-site of aged care facilities to vaccinate their staff.

RSL LifeCare, an aged care provider in New South Wales (NSW) and the ACT, has a 2,600 strong workforce. They previously had 10 percent of their staff with at least one dose and another 10 percent fully vaccinated.

Over the last month, the organisation has managed to increase this number with up to 78 percent of their residential aged care staff having had their first jab, and 38 percent have had both doses.

While they have had success boosting their staff vaccination numbers, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of RSL LifeCare, Graham Millett, says that their workforce has still faced issues getting the jab.

"We continue to support the Government’s decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for staff as a necessary measure to ensure aged care residents and home care clients remain safe," says Mr Millett.

"Our staff have made considerable progress in vaccination rates. With the assistance of NSW Health mobile clinics at two of our facilities, ANZAC Village and John Edmondson VC Gardens, more than 448 RSL LifeCare staff have been vaccinated. 

"This now means approximately 78% of RSL LifeCare Residential Aged Care staff have had the first jab and 38% have had both doses.

"However, the main barrier for many staff continues to be access to the COVID-19 vaccine. This is a real hurdle that the Government needs to overcome to ensure all aged care workers are entirely vaccinated. Currently, in NSW the wait at vaccination hubs is at least six weeks, even when they are being identified as a frontline worker.

"For staff to rapidly receive the vaccine, the current logistical processes need to be streamlined. The way to achieve this is to have clinics established on-site.

"Our staff are eager to ensure they are protected against COVID-19 as soon as possible and streamlining this process will ensure that occurs in a timely manner."

On top of the mandate, only four States have agreed to enforce the Federal decision through their own public health orders on aged care worker vaccinations, including New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia.

Some States have enforced their own penalties for aged care workers who are not vaccinated by the deadline.

In Western Australia, the Government signed off on a up to $20,000 fine for aged care workers who go to work not vaccinated after 17 September.

The United Workers Union (UWU) raised further concerns that the current mandatory vaccine push will worsen the aged care staffing crisis and put further strain on hospitals.

In Western Australia, the UWU say that fewer than 50 percent of aged care workers have received one jab and only 25 percent of workers are fully vaccinated.

If WA is to reach its current public health directive, there would need to be 2,700 aged care workers inoculated a week for the next five weeks to meet the 17 September deadline.

Aged Care Director of UWU, Carolyn Smith said that the latest directive in WA alone will cause panic among aged care workers and will force many to leave the industry.

"The vaccine rollout has been bungled from the get-go, not just through the lack of availability and access but through confusing and mixed messaging coming from the different layers of Government," says Ms Smith.

"While we will always encourage our members to follow the health advice of the State and Federal Chief Health Officers, it’s not a surprise that there is an element of hesitancy among aged care workers, as misinformation has been able to thrive in the context of regularly changing vaccine advice.

"Even if it was realistic to deliver more than 30,000 doses in five weeks, there hasn’t been enough done to allay the fears of aged care workers who have been subject to not just online misinformation but also reports in the mainstream media around blood clots and other risks associated with various vaccines.

"With all this considered, if workers are banned from the industry, extreme staffing shortages will become an inevitability and will compound the problems being faced in health as aged care residents will be forced to take up much-needed beds in hospitals."

UWU is asking the Federal Government and State and Territory Governments to reconsider the current 17 September deadline and introduce more effective programs that will address the workforces issues in receiving vaccines, including education components.

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