Botched vaccine rollout exposes aged care neglect
Among comparable countries, Australia stands out for its high level of coronavirus-related nursing home deaths.
The Morrison government’s failure to get the COVID-19 vaccine to most aged care workers is a reflection of its level of concern and regard for workers and residents in the sector, said Charles Sturt University Associate Professor Maree Bernoth.
Professor Bernoth, who is a registered nurse and NSWNMA member, said Australia stands out globally for its high level of COVID-19-related nursing home deaths.
“The alarming impact of the virus in Australia’s aged care has been revealed in a report by the International Long Term Care Policy Network in London,” she said.
“According to the report, 75 per cent of all COVID deaths in Australia occurred in aged care, compared to 59 per cent in Canada, 49 per cent in Sweden and 34 per cent in the UK.
“Aged care is a federal responsibility, but the government took a long time to respond to COVID-19 infections in aged care facilities when they first occurred.
“Obviously, little has changed as we now have another slow response to the need to vaccinate aged care workers.”
Professor Bernoth said the government had previously promised to put systems in place by the end of March 2021 to make it possible for anyone working with vulnerable elderly people to get vaccinated as a priority.
“Why weren’t staff vaccinated at the same time as the residents?” she asked.
“The Victorian sector demonstrates the impact that government support can have on the level of vaccination.
“Almost all staff in Victorian government–run aged care facilities were vaccinated, compared to only one third of staff in private (not for profit and for profit) facilities being immunised by late June.”
She criticised the government for making vaccination the responsibility and fault of the individual worker.
“Aged care workers are poorly paid and highly casualised. They need to feed families and pay mortgages so they often work across different facilities.
“What happens if a worker has an appointment for a vaccination but needs to go into work because the facility is short staffed? The onus should not be on the individual.
“If the government is mandating vaccination, which I support, then systems need to be put in place to ensure that vaccination can happen without penalising the workers.”
Professor Bernoth added that the government should also have made vaccination mandatory for aged care workers who provide in-home care under home care packages.
“In-home workers are visiting multiple homes, with various potential points of infection. If unvaccinated they are a risk to themselves and their clients.”