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Thursday, December 7, 2023

COVID-19 booster doses offering further protection to residents and workers

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The Commonwealth’s COVID-19 booster vaccination program in residential aged care is well underway.

To date, more than 900 clinics have delivered Pfizer booster doses to residents and workers at residential aged care facilities (RACFs) across Australia.

The Federal Government has just accepted ATAGI’s recommendation that the time frame for booster doses be brought forward from six months to five months.

Based on the new advice, the health department is now working with vaccine providers and RACFs to bring forward where possible those booster clinics currently scheduled for early 2022.

Given the likelihood of ongoing transmission of both Omicron and Delta variants, ATAGI recommends COVID-19 booster vaccination for anyone aged 18 and older who completed their primary course of COVID-19 vaccination five or more months ago.

Timely receipt of a booster dose is particularly important for people with increased exposure risk – including residents and workers in RACFs – or who have risk factors for severe disease.

You can read ATAGI’s statement on the Omicron variant and timing of COVID-19 booster vaccination here.

While two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine offers very good protection, a booster dose will further strengthen a person’s immune response and help reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalisation or death from COVID-19.

As communities transition to opening up, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in residential aged care settings and the broader community requires optimum protection of our most vulnerable citizens.

The Government strongly encourages people who live and work in residential aged care to get a booster dose as soon as they are eligible – at least five months after receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In addition to the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine is also approved for use as a booster dose. This means everyone aged 18 and over can access a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine as their booster dose, regardless of the vaccine you received for your first and second doses.

All RACFs are being offered an in-reach booster clinic to be delivered by a Commonwealth vaccine provider, including some aged care providers approved to deliver vaccine services. Each facility will be supported by their Primary Health Network as the main point of contact for the booster roll out.

Residential aged care facilities can choose to have a visiting GP, pharmacist or Commonwealth vaccine clinic to conduct an on-site booster clinic.

The Government expects that many facilities will have both a Commonwealth or aged care provider booster clinic, as well as some primary care visits by GPs or pharmacists. This is because not all residents in any one facility will all be eligible for their booster dose at the same time.

The booster clinics will offer a booster dose to all residents and workers who received their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at least five months ago from the date of the clinic.

Additionally, any residents or workers requiring a first or second dose, or who have been medically assessed as being severely immunocompromised and requiring a third dose, can access a vaccination at the booster clinics. A booster dose is not recommended for severely immunocompromised people who receive a third dose.

What residents and their families need to know

Your RACF is responsible for supporting you to get your COVID-19 booster dose and for making the necessary preparations to ensure a safe, smooth and efficient booster clinic.

It is very important that your facility staff are providing you with information to make an informed decision about getting a booster dose. Your facility should be engaging with you now – to ensure you have the time you require to understand and consent to a booster dose.

As has been demonstrated throughout 2021, vaccination saves lives. Booster doses are part of the protection available for you against COVID-19.

A factsheet is available for residents and their families, providing information about the booster program and why you are being prioritised through a dedicated booster clinic at your facility.

Your facility will advise you of when a COVID-19 vaccine booster clinic is scheduled. It is voluntary for you to receive the booster however it is strongly recommended.

Your facility staff will discuss with you, and your substitute decision maker, whether you consent to receive the booster dose and they can assist you to complete the consent form or record your verbal consent. This needs to occur prior to the date of the booster clinic.

If you are eligible for your booster dose ahead of your facility’s booster clinic, you can ask your facility to organise for a visiting GP or pharmacist to give you your booster now. You do not need to wait for your facility’s scheduled booster clinic to get your booster dose if you are already eligible – that is, it is five months since you received your second dose of a COVID‑19 vaccine.

If the booster clinic will be held at your facility less than five months since you received a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, your facility will ensure you have access to a booster dose when you become eligible. This can be from a visiting GP.

Residents who are yet to receive a first or second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine can also consent to receive a vaccination at the booster clinic.

Each facility will only be receiving one booster clinic, timed for when at least 80 per cent of residents are eligible for their booster dose. Every resident who is eligible to receive a booster dose is strongly recommended to do so.

What workers need to know

All residential aged care workers who received a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at least five months ago can get their booster dose at your facility’s on-site booster clinic.

You are strongly encouraged to get a booster dose when eligible. A booster dose will boost your immune system and help to reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalisation or death from COVID-19.

A booster dose will also help to reduce the risk of breakthrough infection. This is when a fully vaccinated person gets COVID-19 and is at risk of transmitting the virus to others. Breakthrough infections in residential aged care settings place residents at great risk.

A factsheet for workers is available to explain the COVID-19 booster program in residential aged care and how you can receive your booster dose.

If you received your second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine less than five months ago, you will be able to get your booster when you become eligible through other channels such as GPs, pharmacies and vaccination clinics.

Workers who still require a first or second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine can receive a Pfizer vaccination at the booster clinic.

Your facility will notify you when the COVID-19 vaccine booster clinic is scheduled and ensure you complete a consent form prior to the day of the clinic.

If you are due for a booster vaccine and not able to get vaccinated on the day, you can book a booster appointment using the COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic Finder. You can also call the dedicated COVID-19 Helpline on 1800 020 080 (select option 4) for any questions about vaccination and for assistance on how to book an appointment.

What residential aged care providers need to know

All residential aged care providers have received letters from the Department of Health and the Australian Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission to ensure providers and facility staff are aware of their roles and responsibilities in supporting the rollout of the COVID-19 booster program.

The roles and responsibilities of residential aged care providers and services is detailed on the department’s website. In summary, residential aged care providers and services are responsible for:

  • preparing your service, residents, families and workers for the booster clinics – all residents and their families, and your workers should have now received information from you on the booster program including the fact sheets referred to above.
  • managing the consent processes for residents and substitute decision maker, and
  • preparing residents for the clinic including assessing their clinical suitability for a vaccine on the day, post clinic monitoring and adverse event reporting.
  • An information kit has been produced to further support residential aged care facilities as they prepare for their COVID-19 Booster clinics. The information kit includes resources, links and information on:
    • Video to share with residents and workers
    • Scheduling of booster clinics by Commonwealth vaccine providers
    • Roles and responsibilities
    • How to prepare for a booster clinic
    • What providers need to know about the consent process
    • How to support residents, their families and substitute decision makers
    • How to support workers
    • Record keeping and reporting COVID-19 vaccinations and exemptions
    • Content to share on their website, social channels and internal communications.
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