Vaccination against COVID-19 will now be mandatory for anyone working in residential aged care, the government has announced.
In a late night press conference after a national cabinet meeting, PM Scott Morrison said state and territory leaders agreed that by mid-September 2021 all residential aged care workers will have had one dose of the vaccine and vaccination will be a condition of working in a residential aged care facility.
The PM was reacting to a growing COVID-19 crisis across the nation, with lockdowns now in force in Perth and Darwin as well as Sydney, and fears that with a low vaccination rate and the aggressive Delta strain of the virus, the situation could worsen.
"The Delta variant is proving to be a far more difficult element of this virus than we have seen to date ... and the Delta variant is presenting very different challenges from those that we have faced in the past. And that was a topic of some discussion at our meeting this evening," Morrison said.
Morrison said that all residents in aged care facilities have had their first dose, and will have had their second visit by the end of this week. Aged care is currently at 99.5 per cent vaccinated with two thirds of the population aged over 70 having now received their first dose.
The mandatory vaccination scheme will be run as a partnership between the commonwealth and the states, "preferably using the same system that is used for having mandatory vaccinations for the flu for aged care workers," Morrison said.
The national cabinet made the decision after new advice from the AHPPC, and there will be an $11 million grant program to encourage residential aged care facilities to provide staff with leave to get vaccinated and for those who may suffer from side effects.
"On two occasions I've made it very clear, and supported by the Premiers, that this is something we wanted to see and so tonight we received the advice that would enable us to go forward with that measure," said the PM.
"Now, we have asked, though, that there be further risk and benefit assessment conducted and that be reported back to National Cabinet by early August. We need to make sure that there are no unintended consequences of this decision."
The PM also announced that the Government will be implementing "a new no fault indemnity scheme" for GPs who administer COVID-19 vaccines.
The AstraZeneca vaccine will now be available to all ages in consultation with their GP.
The health advice, however, has not changed and still states that the AstraZeneca vaccine is preferred for over 60s only.
The PM also said that the commonwealth will work with providers and aged care workers to get access to vaccines at state-run clinics and therefore give them access to the Pfizer vaccine.
"This has been a difficult cohort, a difficult group, to get vaccinated, and this is why I have been fairly constant and determined to ensure we got to where we are tonight, and I'm pleased that we’ve finally got here tonight. I would have preferred to have been here a little while ago, but nevertheless, our determination has paid off," he told reporters.
Failure of government, not workforce
The United Workers Union's Aged Care Director Carolyn Smith, said that the blame for low vaccination rates among workers in the sector should lie solely at the feet of the government.
"Aged care workers were supposed to have been 1A in the rollout and vaccinated at their aged care facilities," she said.
“Instead they were only given leftovers and vast numbers of them missed out.
“Now aged care workers are being given a two-month deadline to be vaccinated in what has become, sadly, a familiar theme of aged care workers being blamed for the Federal Government’s failings.
“The rollout of this vaccine program has been an exercise in ineptitude and aged care workers have borne the brunt of that.”
Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) chief executive Patricia Sparrow said that decision is the right one, but this alone won't fix the vaccination rollout.
"This announcement won’t solve the problems with the rollout. To suggest so would just be blame-shifting. The reason there is low rates of vaccination has little to do with our workers," she said.
“The best way to improve vaccination rates is to make it as easy as possible for aged care workers, including through on-site workplace vaccination.
“Our workers were given priority as 1A and 1B at the beginning of the year, yet they are still waiting to be vaccinated. It’s not their fault."
Leading Aged Services Australia Chief executive Sean Rooney wants more information about how the $11 million grant will be meted out.
“Aged care providers and staff require more details for the $11 million funding announcement to support the increasing uptake of the vaccinations," he said.
“We also need to know what supports will be in place in the event that aged care homes are left short staffed in the event that some staff are unwilling or unable to be vaccinated. We must ensure that staff numbers and care standards are not compromised."
The announcement comes after aged care services minister Richard Colbeck revealed last week that only 33 per cent of residential aged-care staff, or 85,272, have received a first dose of the vaccination.
Of those 85,272, 40,354, or 15.6 per cent, have received a second dose of the vaccination.
For home care workers the figure drops to only 4.3 per cent fully vaccinated and 18.3 per cent with one dose.Do you have an idea for a story?
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