The states and territories are following the Commonwealth’s new advice and not forcing aged care workers to have the COVID-19 vaccine, health departments across the country have told Australian Ageing Agenda.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration granted provisional approval of Pfizer Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine for people 16 years and over on Monday after it met safety, quality and efficiency requirements.
Australia’s 318,000 aged care and disability workers and 190,000 aged care and disability residents remain at the top of the priority list to receive the vaccine, which will be administered in two doses at least 21 days apart from late February.
In a press conference after National Cabinet on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the vaccine would not be compulsory for aged care workers based on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.
“The AHPPC have said at this point, they are not recommending that be the case. But that doesn’t mean that that mightn’t be a position in the future. And so we will take this step by step,” Mr Morrison said.
“I have no doubt if there were concerns about the wellbeing of vulnerable Australians, particularly elderly Australians, that they would make such a recommendation,” he said.
However, deputy chief medical officer Professor Michael Kidd said the vaccine is strongly recommended for aged care staff and residents.
“We are actively encouraging the residents of aged care and people who are working in aged care, both the staff of the facilities, but also the people coming into the facilities around the country to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it starts to roll out into their area,” Professor Kidd said.
States and territories working with Commonwealth
As previously reported, the Department of Health told Australian Ageing Agenda last week that state and territory health departments can issue public health directions enforcing individuals to be vaccinated.
State and territory health departments report they are following the Commonwealth advice and while none have taken steps to make the vaccine mandatory for aged care workers, they are encouraging it.
A spokesperson from NT Health said aged care workers in the top end will be called upon to have the new vaccine.
“The COVID-19 vaccine will be strongly recommended for aged care workers in the NT. The influenza vaccination will continue to be mandatory for aged care workers,” a NT Health spokesperson told AAA.
A spokesperson for SA Health said it was working with the Commonwealth to distribute the vaccine to South Australians.
“Timeframes and vaccination priority groups have been determined by the Commonwealth government. We are still working through the logistics to determine if any legislative changes are required,” the spokesperson told AAA.
Similarly, “the ACT Government will continue to work with the Commonwealth on what the COVID-19 vaccination program will look like here in the ACT,” an ACT Government spokesperson told AAA.
WA Health said it was currently working through the advice from Friday.
“WA Health is working through the advice received on Friday from National Cabinet, and what it means for Western Australian aged care workers and residents,” a spokesperson from WA Health told AAA.
A public health services spokesman from the Tasmanian Department of Health said the state was continuing to plan the rollout of the vaccine.
“Decisions about the use of licenced vaccines will be based on expert national and local advice, aiming for high uptake in target groups,” the spokesperson told AAA.
A spokesperson from the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services said the state was encouraging all Victorians to get vaccinated.
“Everyone has a role in protecting themselves and their communities against coronavirus by following public heath advice and getting vaccinated,” the spokesperson told AAA.
NSW Health and Queensland Health directed AAA to the Commonwealth Government for a response to our enquiry about whether they were considering making the vaccine mandatory for aged care workers in their state.
COVID-19 campaign begins
On Wednesday the Federal Government commenced a $23.9 million public information campaign to encourage Australians to have the COVID-19 jab.
The three-phase campaign, which aims to keep Australians fully informed about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, will:
- reaffirm that COVID-19 vaccines have been put through our world-leading independent approvals process, ensuring both the safety and efficacy of our vaccine candidates
- provide information on how the vaccine will be rolled out, particularly to priority groups, and dosage requirements
- inform people about how and where to get vaccinated, dosage requirements, and support vaccine uptake.
The campaign will run on several mediums, including television, radio, press, digital, social and mobile.
Find out more on the vaccine rollout strategy here.