Major Australian aged care provider reveals just 15% of staff vaccinated as sector demands changes to rollout

One of Australia’s largest aged care providers says just 15% of its staff are fully vaccinated and it has urged the federal government to send vaccination teams into nursing homes to fix the “main barrier” to a rapid rollout.

RSL LifeCare, which operates 28 aged care homes across Covid-hit Nuovo Galles del Sud and the Australian Capital Territory, has revealed 27% of its staff have received a first dose and 15% are fully vaccinated.

That is a lower vaccination rate than SummitCare’s Baulkham Hills aged care home – the site of a growing outbreak in Sydney – where two-thirds of staff remain unvaccinated.

The federal government last week mandated vaccines for aged care workers, compelling them to get a first dose by September or be barred from the sector.

RSL LifeCare’s chief executive, Graham Millett, applauded the mandate, but he told Guardian Australia the chief barrier to rapid vaccination in the sector was difficulty accessing the jab.

“This is a real hurdle that the government needs to overcome to ensure all aged care workers are entirely vaccinated," Egli ha detto.

Millett called on the federal government to deploy in-reach teams to set up clinics at aged care homes. He said the current rollout needed to be streamlined if the rest of his staff were to be rapidly vaccinated.

“The way to achieve this is to have clinics established on-site," Egli ha detto. “Currently in NSW the wait at vaccination hubs is weeks. Perciò, pop-up clinics at aged care homes will expedite inoculation among staff. This approach has worked for residents and there is no reason it will not work for staff.”

The nursing union, former health department secretary Jane Halton and aged care royal commissioner Lynelle Briggs have already called on the commonwealth to send in-reach teams to aged care homes to vaccinate workers.

An alliance of unions and aged care providers released a statement on Wednesday night insisting workers weren’t to blame for the commonwealth’s failed rollout.

They said staff should be vaccinated quickly and safely with Pfizer and the government should fund workplace vaccinations and priority access to vaccination providers near workplaces.

The statement – from groups including the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, and the United Workers Union – also called for a targeted vaccine education campaign and paid leave to access vaccinations and recover from side-effects.

“Aged care workers and their unions continue to be frustrated by the federal government’s failure on the aged care vaccine rollout, that has left their lives and those that they care for in danger,” the ACTU president, Michele O’Neil, disse. “The federal government must act urgently to mitigate the risk at this critical time, before we see another wave of Covid sweeping through the nation’s aged care facilities.”

The government had initially planned to use in-reach teams to vaccinate workers, but abandoned the plan, forcing staff to rely on leftover vaccines not used on residents.

The government is now telling aged care staff – who are poorly paid, highly casualised and work across multiple sites – to get their vaccination in the same way as the rest of the population. The government recently announced $11m in support to help providers cover the expense of staff leaving work to get the jab.

The Coalition had earlier promised to vaccinate aged care workers at 13 pop-up hubs, which were to be established nationwide in May. But only three have been set up and all are in Sydney.

Millett said his staff were not vaccine-hesitant and took the safety of their residents and residents’ family members seriously. “For this reason, they are eager to ensure they are protected against Covid-19 as soon as possible," Egli ha detto.

Aged care workers were supposed to be vaccinated as part of the highest-priority cohort. That cohort was supposed to be completed within six weeks of the rollout’s commencement in February.

Briggs told the ABC on Wednesday she was “shocked and dismayed” by the low level of vaccination at the SummitCare aged care home in Baulkham Hills.

"[ero] left asking myself: well what’s happened here? Has this been a mistake among officials? Was it a response to insufficient vaccines? Or was it deliberate, in which case it’s a scandal? Either way, something serious must be done about it and it must be done quickly.”

Briggs called for the federal government to urgently vaccinate the workforce, saying in-reach teams were the best approach.

“The government’s decision to make vaccination mandatory is a really important first step," lei disse. “But more important is to get vaccines into the arms of aged care workers really, really quickly. You can do that by a number of means, the most efficient will, ovviamente, be delivery at people’s place of work. They must get vaccinated and vaccinated quickly.”

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation federal secretary, Annie Butler, expressed fury earlier this week that the government had sought to place blame on workers for low vaccination rates.

Butler wants the federal government to fund all state governments to conduct targeted blitzes of aged care staff, vaccinating them in their workplaces as initially intended. “It makes sense to fund the states and let them manage an on-site vaccination program for aged care," lei disse.

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