Aged Care providers, unions and their members, frustrated at the failures of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, have secured key commitments from the federal government regarding vaccinations for aged care staff.
Representatives from the Australian Aged Care Collaboration – the peak body of aged care providers – as well as unions representing workers from aged care met with key decision makers on Monday to discuss major concerns around resident and worker safety. Present at the meeting were ministers Greg Hunt and Richard Colbeck (with portfolios in health and aged care respectively) and Lieutenant General John Frewen, Commander of the Vaccine Taskforce.
The group collectively called on the government to immediately address the following five key principles that are essential to the success of the vaccine rollout for all aged care workers:
- Resident and worker safety
- Government funded in-reach workplace vaccination programs and prioritised access to Pfizer vaccination
- Paid vaccination leave
- Targeted vaccine education and communication
- Transparency and accountability on vaccine data and supply
As a result of the meeting, Minister Hunt and Lt General Frewen committed to removing the key barriers for aged care workers (and aged care facilities) in accessing COVID-19 vaccinations. This included:
- Ensuring access to priority and supply of Pfizer as outlined in the initial rollout plan. All aged care workers, regardless of age, will have access to Pfizer (though can choose AstraZeneca if preferred or indicated). Unions and providers also requested transparency over and quarantining of supply of Pfizer for aged care workers
- On-site workplace vaccination – currently being negotiated through several channels, which include:
- ‘Self-vaccination’ by aged care facilities with capacity
- Continued in-reach by companies previously contracted for aged care in-reach
- Engagement of states to assist in delivery of in-reach vaccination
- ‘Hub and spoke’ arrangement with Public Health Networks and Residential Aged Care Facilities (this model is still being explored)
- Genuine priority access to vaccination via other channels, e.g. state vaccination hubs and GP clinics. Priority access was already meant to be happening, however this has not been occurring in practice. The government committed to ensuring this occurs.
- Support to access vaccination, and recover from effects if needed, through paid vaccination leave. Unions and providers acknowledged the initial commitment of $11m is a good start to support aged care workers but as it only applies to casual employees, is still not good enough. The Minister was clear that he would explore what funding could be organised to extend paid vaccination leave to all
Representatives from the joint union/aged care provider group will meet with the Department of Health and vaccination task force three times a week for the next two weeks to provide input into the processes for implementation of the above.
The full group, including ministers and Lt General Frewen, will meet on 26 July to evaluate progress.