The Department of Health should collaborate with aged care stakeholders to create an efficient COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan for residential homes, the CEO of an aged care peak body tells Australian Ageing Agenda.

The call comes as less than half of aged care homes nationally have received the COVID-19 vaccine in the first six weeks of the mass vaccination scheme.

At the start of the roll out, Minister for Health Greg Hunt projected the vaccine would reach around 183,000 residents and 339,000 staff at more than 2,600 residential aged care facilities in first six weeks of the rollout, which commenced 22 February (read more here).

“To date, more than 111,873 vaccinations have been administered to aged care residents across Australia. This includes 925 facilities who have received first doses and 345 that have received second doses,” a spokesperson from the Department of Health told AAA on Tuesday.

CEO of provider peak body Leading Age Services Australia, Sean Rooney said the vaccine rollout has been “far too slow” in residential aged care.

“The department should involve the aged care sector in designing an effective and efficient vaccination rollout into residential aged care. LASA and other aged care representative bodies can provide advice to aid the logistical planning to safely deliver vaccines to aged care residents and staff appropriate to the setting,” Mr Rooney told AAA.

Sean Rooney

Mr Rooney said LASA initiated two urgent meetings in February and March with the health department seeking clearer communication about the aged care rollout including the implementation schedule.

“In each case we have received undertakings that the situation would improve but we are yet to see results. At our last meeting with the department in late March we were told to expect a new vaccination schedule in mid-April,” Mr Rooney said.

LASA has made it clear to the health department that communication to the aged care sector and the delivery of the program has been inconsistent and insufficient, he said.

“This has led to disappointment, frustration and confusion among aged care residents, families, providers and their staff. We have provided suggestions on improvements to program design and delivery to the department.”

A spokesperson from the health department said the vaccination program has been designed from the outset to continually expand.

There is “no hard deadline” of when the aged care vaccination phase will be completed, the spokesperson said.

“There is no set end date for each phase as the rollout is ongoing and every Australian who wishes to be vaccinated will have the opportunity to do so,” the spokesperson said.

Staff rollout even slower

In response to AAA’s questions about the vaccination plan for residential aged care staff including whether they will receive it via an in-reach program or have to visit a GP, the health department said facility workers were also a priority group but residents received the vaccine first because they were more vulnerable.

Some workers have been vaccinated at the same time as residents where additional vaccines have been available, the spokesperson said.

“However the medical advice is to not mass vaccinate staff at the same time as residents in case there are adverse reactions. As always the program is guided by the medical advice.”

In-reach vaccination services will be available for aged care workers or they can choose to be vaccinated at their local GP or GP respiratory clinic, the spokesperson said.

Patricia Sparrow

The CEO of fellow aged care peak body Aged and Community Services Australia, Patricia Sparrow echoed Mr Rooney’s call for a clearer rollout plan.

“Logistical issues have made the rollout slow and inconsistent. A detailed, transparent plan is critically required to ensure that every resident in aged care, and the workers who support them, are vaccinated urgently and are not left behind,” Ms Sparrow told AAA.

On top of the delays, there have other issues during the first six weeks of the rollout including two aged care residents receiving a quadruple dose of the vaccine and more than 120 doses binned due to refrigeration concerns (read more here).

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