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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Federal Govt challenged on aged care vaccine data blind spot

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Senior health bureaucrats have insisted a glaring lack of data about aged care workers’ vaccination status will be fixed in coming weeks.

There are growing concerns about the Federal Government’s ability to track whether staff in residential and home care have been immunised.

The health department has no idea how many of Australia’s 130,000 home care workers are vaccinated more than three months after the rollout began.

Less than 10 per cent of residential workers have been fully vaccinated through Commonwealth visits to nursing homes.

But an accurate number of how many staff in the sector have received jabs from other sources including vaccination hubs and GPs is unknown.

Nursing homes have been shut down in Melbourne with a resident and two staff members testing positive for coronavirus during the city’s lockdown-inducing outbreak.

Starting on Friday, aged care providers will voluntarily provide the Federal Government with data about workers’ vaccination status.

Sharing the information will later become a mandatory requirement through regulation.

“We’ll get good data from this portal for residential aged care workers and then we will get good data for home care workers,” health secretary Brendan Murphy told Senate estimates on Wednesday.

Residential aged care workers have received leftover vaccinations when federally contracted companies visit facilities.

The Government announced in February all staff would be offered jabs at work but changed the rollout after medical advice AstraZeneca was not recommended for people under 50.

It was also decided residents and staff shouldn’t be immunised on the same day because of the potential for side effects to cause minor illness.

Professor Murphy said the expert group of immunisation advisers recommended putting home care workers in the second part of the first rollout phase.

“They have been eligible as other health care workers are to go and get vaccination through other multiple points of presence,” he said.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victorian secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick called on Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck to resign for failing to take full responsibility for vaccinating workers.

“It’s like their promise to vaccinate the aged care workforce through an in-reach program in the facilities never, ever existed,” she said.

“Was it only ever a vaccine-dregs-for-staff arrangement?”

Health official Michael Lye said residential care was considered higher risk than home workers based on last year’s coronavirus death toll.

“In home care there is also a series of measures that have been undertaken to protect residents from the potential spread of COVID, which are employed alongside vaccination,” he told the hearing.

He said the focus was vaccinating residential aged care workers.

Of Australia’s 910 deaths, 685 have been nursing home residents.

The Morrison Government will spend $60 million to extend a program reimbursing aged care providers for costs stemming from residents and staff needing to isolate because of coronavirus.

The scheme supports replacement staff, personal protective equipment, cleaning and infection control, waste management, and travel and accommodation.

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