One-third of fully vaccinated aged care residents are still yet to get their COVID-19 booster dose.
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck yesterday told a parliamentary committee into COVID-19 that while vaccination teams had visited 99 per cent of residential aged care facilities, not everyone had received their third dose.
Of all aged care residents, 89 per cent are fully vaccinated with two doses.
However, the inquiry heard that of those fully vaccinated, only 66 per cent had had their booster.
Senator Colbeck told the inquiry he did not know how many of the 471 people who had died in aged care in 2022 had received their booster dose.
The head of Australia’s vaccine rollout, Lieutenant General John Frewen, said vaccination teams would return to residential aged care to provide more people with boosters.
He told the committee some aged care facilities had a high turnover rate and some people had only just had their primary course and were not eligible for boosters.
It comes as the aged care minister defended his decision to attend the Ashes Test match in Hobart last month on the same day he was expected to attend a COVID-19 committee hearing.
Colbeck said he was balancing his commitments to his aged care and sport portfolios, and had attended several meetings related to Omicron outbreaks in aged care facilities earlier in the day.
“All through that weekend I continued to work on matters relating to both of my portfolios but particularly aged care, even though it was a weekend and I was attending the test match,” he told the parliamentary COVID-19 hearing.
“I am very cognisant of the balance between my portfolios. It was a decision that I made, I have to stand by and live with it.”
The minister argued that Labor MPs were also at the cricket in Hobart that day.
However, Colbeck said sport was not prioritised over issues in aged care.
“I have never refused to appear before the committee – the circumstances was around timing,” he said.
“I was only too happy to work with the committee to organise an appropriate date.”
The minister also sought to deny claims the aged care sector was in crisis in light of issues exacerbated by the Omicron variant.
Workers in the sector have said there had not been enough supplies of protective equipment or rapid antigen tests, while large number of virus cases have led to many staff shortages.
However, Colbeck said aged care was performing well in the face of difficulties.
“I don’t accept that the system is in complete crisis,” he said.
“I know it is certainly working very hard to manage the impacts, particularly of the Omicron outbreak.”
The Federal Government is set to hand out two lots of $400 payments to aged care staff as a retention bonus following the COVID crisis.
The payments have been criticised as a pre-election sweetener for the sector, while a case is before the Fair Work Commission seeking a 25 per cent pay rise for aged care employees.
Colbeck said he wanted to see an outcome resolved quickly on the case, but did not state whether he wanted the 25 per cent increase.
“I don’t believe politicians should be setting wages in any sector of the economy,” he said.
“The sooner the case is resolved the better so we can then start applying the decision to the sector.”
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said if he was in government he would put in a submission in support of a wage rise.