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Friday, December 8, 2023

Head of vaccine roll-out says aged care workers an ‘absolute priority’

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The military chief in charge of Australia’s coronavirus vaccine rollout insists aged care workers remain a priority.

Only one in three aged care staff have been vaccinated despite becoming eligible in the first phase of the program, which started in February.

The entire workforce was meant to be vaccinated by April.

Lieutenant General John Frewen acknowledged aged care staff were a critical workforce and said they were being treated as an absolute priority.

“We are accelerating efforts to get those aged care workers vaccinated,” he told the ABC this morning (Tuesday).

“They are at about 36 per cent now, which is actually above the broader national average, so progress is being made.”

Early in the vaccine rollout, the Federal Government decided to prioritise aged care residents over nursing home staff, considering them the most vulnerable.

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” Lt Gen Frewen said.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard cannot comprehend the earlier approach to vaccines.

“We couldn’t quite understand why the Federal Government sent teams into the aged care facilities to vaccinate residents and not staff,” he told ABC radio.

Five residents at the SummitCare facility in Baulkham Hills in Sydney have tested positive to coronavirus after two staff members were diagnosed.

A third staff member has now tested positive in the past 24 hours.

The infected residents are aged in their 70s, 80s and 90s, and have been transferred to Westmead Hospital as a precaution.

SummitCare has confirmed the new infection and said the affected staff member had been in isolation, as they worked closely with the other two infected staff.

Two-thirds of staff at the centre have not been vaccinated and the outbreak was sparked when an unvaccinated worker at the facility tested positive last week — the second staff member subsequently contracted the virus.

Vaccines will be mandatory for residential aged care staff from mid-September.

The Government has introduced an $11 million grant scheme to help aged care workers take time off to get vaccinated and stay home if they feel side effects.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has raised concerns about vaccinating home-based aged care providers.

Albanese said the vaccine mandate did not apply to 150,000 aged care staff who worked with one million older Australians living in the community.

He warned the failure to include community workers in the mandate was “a huge gaping hole” in the vaccine program and an outbreak waiting to happen.

“The Government doesn’t even have a plan for these workers,” Albanese told 2GB radio.

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