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Vaccine rollout in disarray, aged care left in the dark

The nation's COVID-19 vaccination rollout has become more complicated over the past week after questions were raised about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

After reports of a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots were raised by the EU regulator and the UK announced it would offer under-30s an alternative vaccine as a result, Prime Minister Scott Morrison advised under 50s in Australia to consider another option. This was followed by an announcement on Friday that the use of AstraZeneca in NSW would be paused.

However, this is only the newest in a long line of issues with the government's plan that includes issues with government booking websites, GPs and the procurement of vaccines. And every move the government makes is coloured by the huge self-imposed number of vaccinated Australians promised by Morrison, which has been spectacularly missed by some 3.6 million people.

As of April 8, there have been 869,245 vaccinated. All up approximately 3.38 per cent of the population have received one dose of a vaccine.

In aged care – a phase 1A priority and the population most affected by the virus in Australia – providers initially struggled to get the vaccine and have subsequently struggled to get the second dose.

Shane Neaves, CEO of Peninsula Villages aged care, says that getting his staff and residents vaccinated has been difficult from the beginning. He was first contacted by contractor HCA who told him they would be administering the Pfizer vaccine at his home.

"We had a couple of false starts so we got organised and they didn't arrive on the days they were planned to come but then we got the first round done very nicely, I think 324, both residents and staff, done," he told Aged Care Insite. 

"Then they needed to come back within 21 days and they came back and I was told day one that, 'Sorry, we're only good to have enough for 306 [vaccinations].' 

"For three days, I was jumping up and down trying to get another 18 doses delivered and I failed. I then caused more trouble with radio, the media and the [health] department and, in the end, we got the other 18 done."

Although Neaves says that most of the residents are now vaccinated, he has new residents entering the home who are wondering when they will get their injections. There's also the matter of another 270 staff members who are without the vaccine.

Information and transparency has been a sticking point for Neaves. He is left largely in the dark and therefore cannot properly plan or at the very least inform residents and staff of what is going on.

"The only information I get is from the media," he says.

"The prime minister came in and said, 'Aged care workers, aged care residents, we're going to categorise you as 1A so you're the priority.' But now we're starting to do 1Bs without all the 1As being done."

In South Australia, aged care workers at two Southern Cross Care (SA) aged care facilities say have similarly been left in limbo after getting their first vaccine dose.

After receiving their first Pfizer dose, and with time ticking on the 21 day limit for their second, some workers have even been told to go to their GP or local hospital in search of their second shots.

Carolyn Smith, director of aged care at United Workers Union, says that workers were told they would be a vaccine priority, now some are missing out altogether. 

"Others have been served up vaccine ‘leftovers’ for their first jab, and they can’t even get their second jab on-site," Smith says.

“Even worse, when they try to find out where to go, they get the runaround and they are left in vaccine limbo.

“Workers are being left without vaccinations or partially vaccinated, with no advice about the path forward.

“It’s just another example where the Federal Government is failing to keep older Australians safe in aged care."

Donna, an aged care worker and union member who works at the Southern Cross Care (SA) Pines and Bucklands facilities, says that she hasn't been able to get any clear advice on what to do about getting her vaccine. She has now missed out on the jab on a couple of occasions due to stock running out.

And she says that when other staff took the advice to go to the hospital to get their second dose, there were more hurdles.

"When the people came in to do the second jab, they ran out of vaccinations. So some of the people who had their first jab didn't get their second jab. And now, they're told they have to go to the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

"But the hospital has said they can't give them a second shot unless the facility or the management ring up the hospital and organise that. 

"So one of the staff members have actually sent emails to the manager to try and get her to work out when they can get their second shot because it has to be Pfizer."

Donna is angry with the government for overpromising and under delivering, but also her employer for their lack of support during the process.

"I can tell you, there's a lot of people at my workplace who are extremely pissed off, and to the point that they're thinking of not even getting the vaccination done at all now because it's just too much of a hassle," she says.

"We are always saying, 'you are the frontliners in aged care', no matter what you do, whether you're a nurse, a carer, a cleaner. But we are feeling like we are just the most neglected industry with the most important jobs on our heads and our shoulders. We are not treated in the way that we deserve to be."

Smith agrees and says that this is just another example of the Government neglecting aged care.

“The Morrison Government has once again failed older Australians, their families and aged care workers.”

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