To help speed up the rollout of the fourth dose of the COVID vaccine – which Minister for Health & Aged Care Mark Butler has described as “lagging” – the Department of Health is sending in special teams to aged care facilities to vaccinate residents.

Mark Butler

“I have asked the department to call facilities individually to schedule in-reach teams that are contracted, paid for by taxpayers, to provide this valuable service – vaccinating and protecting aged care residents,” Mr Butler announced at a press conference yesterday.

“In some cases, these in-reach teams will visit aged care facilities and be able to provide vaccination services to a certain number of those aged care residents,” he added. “But some others might not be eligible because it hasn’t yet been four months since they had their booster dose.”

In those instances, Mr Butler said that he would be encouraging his department to arrange revisits to facilities to “mop up” any residents who hadn’t received their fourth dose.

“It is that important,” he said. “We are seeing dozens of older Australians who have worked hard, paid their taxes, raised their families and who are dying in large numbers of this disease still every week.”

In total, there have been 2,749 COVID-related deaths in aged care facilities since the pandemic began.

Mr Butler also announced that he and Minister for Aged Care Anika Wells had written to providers “reminding them of the importance of making sure that vaccine operations are put in place in their facilities.”

In March, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation recommended that aged care residents be given a “winter booster dose” of the COVID vaccine.

While noting that the aged care sector “had done magnificently” in administering the first three doses of the vaccine, Mr Butler said rollout of the fourth dose – which health authorities have advised is crucial – is “lagging”.

“We have to do better,” he said. “We have to get the rate up and protect the most vulnerable Australians that we have in this community who are living in an aged care facility.”

In response to Mr Butler’s call, interim CEO of provider peak body the Aged & Community Care Providers Association Paul Sadler told Australian Ageing Agenda that fourth COVID jabs for residents in aged care homes have been under way “and working well” since they became available in April. “Aged care homes are working with GPs and pharmacists to ensure eligible and consenting residents have access to booster shots,” he said.

Paul Sadler

With winter well and truly upon us, Mr Sadler urged aged care providers who haven’t already done so “to arrange for COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations for residents and staff to allow for the best protection of their health and wellbeing in the event of an outbreak.”

Should that happen, it’s vital that the government urgently address workforce shortfalls to avoid staff shortages and care interruptions, Mr Sadler told AAA.

“ACCPA is concerned that our surge workforce capacity continues to be very limited. All Australians should remain vigilant and take responsibility to reduce the risk of contracting COVID or influenza.”

Mr Sadler added: “If people are feeling unwell or suspect they may have been in high-risk settings for COVID or influenza, they should not visit friends or loved ones in aged care homes.”

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