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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

‘Don’t know’: Minister admits he’s unsure of aged-care vaccination numbers

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Almost half of Victoria’s aged care residents have not received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine despite the state being in the grip of an outbreak.

And Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck does not know how many staff in Victoria have been vaccinated against COVID, despite a fresh outbreak forcing several homes into lockdown.

Senator Colbeck made the startling admission while fielding questions about the Victorian aged-care homes outbreak, which has exposed more failings in the federally regulated sector.

Senior health bureaucrat Caroline Edwards told a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday that worker vaccination numbers were under-reported.

Officials said in Victoria that 44,333 residents have received one dose, which offers significant protection, while 25,319 had a second.

There are around 50,000 residents across the state.

A 99-year-old Melbourne aged care resident and two staff have tested positive for coronavirus, forcing four facilities into high alert or lockdown.

Nationally, 153,641 out of about 183,000 aged care residents have received their first jab and 116,688 a second dose.

Edwards said 85 per cent had consented to a vaccine but some residents and families declined due to illness, being close to death or for other reasons.

“We respect all of those decisions,” she told the hearing.

Colbeck said staff vaccination data was initially voluntary but providers were now required to give the Federal Government information.

“We have been working with the sector and the unions to ensure we have access to the data,” he said.

“As workers are progressively vaccinated, that reporting data will come to us via the aged care providers.”

Under sustained questioning from Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher, Colbeck said nationwide 36,710 staff had received both doses.

But officials conceded a more accurate number would not be known until at least later in the week.

“It is a critical question – you should know the answer,” Senator Gallagher told the minister.

“It seems to me you have no urgency and no accountability for what’s going on.”

Of Australia’s 910 coronavirus deaths, 685 have been aged care residents.

The Morrison Government is seeking advice on whether to mandate vaccines for all staff.

It is also under pressure to explain why it lifted a ban on employees working at multiple facilities, which was imposed after Victoria’s second wave.

Colbeck defended the delay in reimposing a ban on aged care workers moving between multiple sites.

“It is unlawful to restrict someone’s capacity to earn a living,” he said.

Despite Victoria’s concerning outbreak, the rule wasn’t reinstated until federal authorities designated Melbourne as a coronavirus hotspot on Thursday.

The Government argues less than five per cent of aged care staff work across multiple sites.

Victoria recorded three new locally acquired cases of coronavirus overnight with none linked to the aged care sector.

There are concerns the seven-day lockdown, which is due to end on Friday, could be extended.

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