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Aged care unions and providers will use a private meeting with the Health Minister and federal coronavirus taskforce commander to warn care for the elderly risks being compromised if nursing home staff are not vaccinated by the time it becomes mandatory.
Aged care workers have until September 17 to receive at least one vaccine dose or they will be unable to work, creating the risk of workforce shortages if too many cannot find a dose and sparking the calls for a new wave of visits by federal teams to aged facilities to jab workers.
The coronavirus has had devastating consequences when it has entered aged care homes.Credit:Justin McManus
Health Minister Greg Hunt and COVID-19 Vaccine Taskforce commander John Frewen will be asked to agree to five principles designed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Australian Aged Care Collaboration, representing providers, to ensure all employees can be vaccinated quickly.
A joint communique prepared by the groups for Monday’s meeting and seen by the Herald and The Age demands aged care staff get Pfizer vaccines at their workplaces and up to two days of federally-funded paid vaccination leave per dose.
Despite government contractors visiting every nursing home in the country to deliver vaccinations and an $11 million fund to encourage uptake, supply problems have meant about 40 per cent of the workforce or 107,452 staff have received at least one dose according to Health Department figures.
Lieutenant General Frewen said the government was prioritising aged care workers, including through access to Pfizer at vaccine hubs. The government was working with the sector on protocols for visitors to aged care facilities and new residents moving to them too, General Frewen said.
“This is right at the top of the concerns that I have at the moment and we are looking at every possible avenue to make sure that aged care is as safe as it can be,” he said.
A spokesman for Mr Hunt said about 25,000 workers were expected to be vaccinated by their employers under the process. Commonwealth teams were re-visiting aged care homes in Sydney to deliver more vaccines too, the spokesman said.
The consequences of the virus entering aged care facilities has been severe, with 685 deaths to date.
The unions and providers have not been satisfied with the government’s strategy to date. “The federal government has failed to deliver workplace vaccination and continued to ignore advice that vaccine supply, accessibility and support are the central barriers in aged care, not hesitancy,” their joint statement declares.
One model being discussed among some in the sector is a “hub and spoke”, in which federal “spoke” teams go into aged care homes to vaccine staff from a regional “hub” that staff and facilities’ own nurses can also visit to collect vaccines.
Sean Rooney, a spokesman for the Aged Care Collaboration, said implementing a new vaccination program for aged care was urgent.
“The last thing we want is a situation where an aged care worker who has been unable to get vaccinated by this date is then excluded from delivering the care and support that vulnerable older Australians in their care are relying upon,” Mr Rooney said.
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