Aged care workers keen for Covid jab are being hampered by Australia’s ‘messy rollout’

Anglicare Australia say its aged care workers are eager to be vaccinated but are being hampered by failures with the government’s “messy and confusing” rollout.

Aged care workers have been given until 17 September to receive a first dose or face being locked out of work.

As of last week, only about 40% of the workforce had received a first dose.

Both industry and staff unions have warned the government the most significant barrier for aged care staff continues to be the lack of vaccination teams visiting staff in their workplaces.

Kasy Chambers, Anglicare Australia executive director, said the aged care staff across the not-for-profit’s network – including its more than 20 residential aged care homes in Covid-hit Sydney and the Illawarra – were “eager to be vaccinated”.

She accused the government of attempting to shift blame onto workers for the low rates of vaccinations, and said: “It is failures in the rollout that have caused low vaccination rates, not the actions of workers.

“Aged care workers were told that they were a priority group for vaccination. Instead of getting easy access to vaccines, they were left to navigate a messy and confusing rollout.”

The government had initially planned to vaccinate aged care workers in their own facilities. But it abandoned the plan, leaving workers reliant on leftover doses not used on residents.

Earlier this month, SummitCare’s Baulkham Hills aged care home – the site of an outbreak in Sydney – revealed two-thirds of its staff remained unvaccinated. RSL LifeCare, which operates 28 aged care homes across Covid-hit New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, told Guardian Australia 27% of its staff had received a first dose and 15% were fully vaccinated.

The low vaccination rates prompted widespread criticism of the government, which had initially pledged to have aged care staff vaccinated within six weeks of the rollout’s February start date.

An alliance of sector peak bodies, unions and aged care providers have called for aged care workers to be vaccinated with Pfizer as a priority, near their workplaces.

The alliance called for paid leave to access vaccinations and recover from side-effects and a targeted vaccine education campaign.

Chambers backed those calls, saying: “The best way to improve vaccination rates is to make it easy for workers, instead of shifting the blame onto them.”

Australia remains last in the OECD for its vaccination rate. Just 11% of Australians are fully vaccinated and 17.4% have received the first dose only.

In the most at-risk age group, those over 70, the full vaccination rate is 30% and the first dose rate is 75%.

Pfizer supply, which has been a perennial issue through the rollout, was boosted on Monday by the arrival of a shipment of one million doses.

The government is expecting similar shipments to arrive in coming weeks and months.

Guardian Australia revealed last week that the domestic production of AstraZeneca has been well down in recent weeks, dropping from about 1m doses per week in May to as low as 232,800 in June.

Production during the first half of July was just one-tenth of what the federal government promised it would distribute to states, doctors, aged care and disability care.

The government does not foresee any supply issues with locally-manufactured AstraZeneca.

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