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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Fourth dose roll-out begins as Operation COVID Shield swings into action

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This week marks the beginning of the roll out of a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose to older and vulnerable Australians, ahead of a predicted winter surge of cases.

Australians aged over 60, Indigenous Australians aged over 50, those in aged and disability care residences, and people who are immunocompromised will be among the groups able to receive their fourth dose as part of the federal health department’s Operation COVID Shield.

However, the winter dose is not mandatory for aged care workers at this stage.

A spokesperson for the operation told Aged Care News that aged care providers previously approved by the Commonwealth to conduct their own self-run, on-site COVID-19 vaccination clinics can opt to run their own COVID-19 winter dose clinics.

These clinics can be used to vaccinate both residents as well as workers who meet ATAGI’s definition of ‘vulnerable groups at risk’.

The department says that local general practices and pharmacies should be utilised to ensure residents and workers are provided timely access to their fourth dose.

“Primary care providers will be a key delivery channel for on-site COVID-19 winter dose vaccinations for residential aged care facilities,” a spokesperson said.  

“Each facility can work with their existing primary care provider to plan for delivery of COVID-19 winter dose vaccinations as residents become eligible – ie. from four months after an initial COVID-19 booster dose. 

Facilities that are unable to run internal clinics, nor leverage their surrounding primary care networks, are able to request an in-reach Commonwealth COVID-19 winter dose vaccination clinic. 

To be eligible, a facility will need to have 10 per cent or more of their resident population requiring a COVID-19 vaccination and this equates to at least 10 residents in total.

These minimum numbers can include those requiring a winter dose as well as a first, second or booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Government is emphasising the importance of Australians receiving booster doses as experts have warned that this winter could see increased COVID-19 transmission coinciding with the influenza season.

Whilst influenza was largely staved off by lockdown conditions and heightened hygiene protocols during the last two years, ATAGI has recently released advice indicating that the virus will circulate again this winter.

Influenza vaccination is recommended for all persons aged 65 years and older, and is a mandatory requirement for residential aged care workers and any other visitors to facilities.

For adults aged 65 years and older, the Fluad® Quad vaccine is preferentially recommended over the standard influenza vaccine.

The Federal Government announced in the 2022/23 Budget that it will spend $4.2 billion on the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

While more than 95 per cent of the Australian population aged over 16 have been ‘fully-vaccinated’ – having received the primary course of two-doses – only 67.8 per cent of those eligible for their booster have received it.

An impressive 93.9 per cent of older Australians living in residential aged care have received more than two doses.

Operation COVID Shield is the federal health department’s national COVID-19 vaccine taskforce.

Operation COVID Shield’s goal is to ensure public confidence in the Australian vaccine rollout and to ensure as many Australians are vaccinated as early as possible.

To deliver the most efficient and effective distribution and delivery of the vaccine, Operation COVID Shield’s key areas of focus are:  

  • Improving coordination and optimising the vaccine rollout plan.
  • Building public confidence through clear and consistent messaging.
  • Delivering a safe and efficient rollout.

The operation is coordinated and led by Lieutenant General John Frewen with the taskforce team comprising Australian public servants and Australian Defence Force members.

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