Jude Clarke has worked in aged care for more than 40 years.
- Residential aged care workers are required to get a COVID vaccine by September
- A union and an industry group have welcomed this move, but say the rollout has not gone as planned
- There are concerns some workers may leave the industry over the requirement
In all that time, she cannot remember an issue that has dominated workforce discussions like COVID vaccinations.
Ms Clarke is fully vaccinated, but she knows some of her colleagues at work are not.
“It truly does bother me a lot. We talk about this during break time,” she said.
Staff at her nursing home are a mix of full-time and part-time. She estimates about one-fifth of her co-workers have not been vaccinated, most by choice.
“You can’t get through to them that this is for their benefit, and for the residents,” she said.
“I know some of my colleagues are frightened by the stories [about vaccines].”
Ms Clarke supports the move to require aged care workers to be vaccinated, which means all residential staff in the sector must get their first COVID-19 vaccine by mid-September.
“I don’t know why it’s taken so long to make it mandatory,” she said.
But she believes the vaccine requirement may drive some “very low paid” workers from the industry.
“Now that it’s mandatory, the last of them will decide if they stay or leave,” she said.
“If they’re dead-set sure they don’t want to do this, we may lose a few.”
‘Lots of misinformation’ about vaccines in community
Aged care staff were a high priority group in Australia’s vaccine program, but months after the rollout began, most workers in that cohort have not been vaccinated.
Carolyn Smith from the United Workers Union, which represents about 10,000 aged care workers, believes this issue should have been wrapped up months ago.
“We would not be in this situation if there’d been a proper rollout for aged care workers,” she said.
Staff and residents at nursing homes should have been vaccinated at the same time, she said.
Instead, she said, “there was no ability of workers who work two or three jobs [at different aged care homes] to be vaccinated”.
Ms Smith says about one-third of the union’s members work in at least two aged care homes.
Her union supports making vaccinations mandatory. But she says some workers will still refuse.
“Some people may leave because there’s lots of misinformation [about vaccines] out in the community,” she said.
Providers are also bracing for some staff departures due to the vaccination mandate.
“If you’re a worker and you’re reluctant, you don’t get much money, it may push you,” said Pat Sparrow, the chief executive of aged care peak body Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA).
“It is a risk that we’ll see exits from the industry.”
Getting vaccinated needs to be easier for workers, industry says
Ms Sparrow said she supported the decision to make vaccines mandatory for aged care workers.
“Overall it’s the right decision,” she said.
“The most important thing now is that we have to make it easy for workers to be vaccinated.”
Providers had also hoped all workers would have been vaccinated along with residents, but that did not happen.
“The original rollout plan was for aged care workers to be vaccinated in the workplace,” she said.
“That was the understanding that we had.”
Currently nearly all aged care residents have had at least one vaccination dose.
Last week the federal health department revealed only about one-third of aged care workers had been vaccinated.