Aged care residents can expect to start receiving COVID-19 booster shot in the coming weeks if the regulator provides approval, the federal aged care minister has announced.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt announced plans to provide aged care residents with booster vaccines from the second week of November if approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.
Mr Hunt said he would have a “critical meeting” on Monday about the booster shots.
“We’re in a position to commence and to make sure that that additional protection is provided,” Mr Hunt told a press conference on Wednesday.
The announcement comes as the country moves into phase B of the COVID-19 national recovery roadmap after reaching 70 per cent full vaccination for Australians aged 16 and over.
It also comes as almost all reported residential aged care workers have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine (99.7 per cent) and more than nine in workers are fully vaccinated (90.1 per cent), according to Department of Health data at 19 October.
Mr Hunt said the booster shots will be Pfizer as Moderna and AstraZeneca are yet to submit booster vaccine applications.
It is “unlikely” there will be priority groups for booster shots like the initial vaccine rollout because there is sufficient vaccine supply, Mr Hunt said.
However, aged care residents are “first in line because they are now six or more months after that second dose,” Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly told the press conference.
“It’s likely that they will be the first ones to get it, but let’s see what ATAGI comes up with,” Professor Kelly said.
Peaks welcome booster rollout
Aged care provider peak bodies Leading Age Services Australia and Aged and Community Services Australia have welcomed the announcement, but say learnings from the initial vaccine rollout must inform the booster program.
The government had initially said all aged care residents and staff would receive two doses of a COVID vaccine in the facility they live or work by the end of April.
LASA CEO Sean Rooney said the sector has learned a great deal from the challenges experienced in the vaccination rollout for residents and staff.
“These lessons will assist in informing how we design and deliver a national approach to booster vaccinations for aged care residents,” Mr Rooney told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“LASA is looking forward to providing advice to government on what is needed to ensure an efficient and effective booster vaccine rollout for aged care. It’s crucial to give confidence to residents and their families and also to our staff,” he said.
ACSA CEO Paul Sadler also said lessons need to be learnt from the previous rollout to ensure booster doses are smooth and fast.
“On-site vaccination teams are the best way to make it easy,” Mr Sadler told AAA.
“Most importantly, there should be a focus on ensuring that booster shots are not marred by the same logistical issues faced in the first rollout,” he said.
“Access to in-reach clinics may be critical in achieving high take-up of the booster shots among residents, especially in over 300 aged care homes where vaccination rates sit below 70 per cent.”
The timing raises concerns about the need for a separate booster program for staff, Mr Sadler said.
“If it does start in November, unfortunately it means that a separate booster program is needed for staff. Especially since staff were vaccinated en masse much later than the residents they care for.
“Until this happens, we must continue using other measures, such as rapid antigen testing and safe re-opening of visitations in areas of concern,” he said.
ACSA is calling for a link between the national immunisation register and aged care databases to generate a more accurate representation of resident vaccinations.