For Elva Turrell, life has been free from fear since she got her COVID-19 vaccination in March.
The 83-year-old was one of thousands of aged care residents to get fully vaccinated during an almost four-month rollout across 69 facilities in southern Queensland’s Darling Downs and West Moreton region.
“[Other residents] have the freedom that they can comfortably go out to a shopping centre, or something, without being in fear of getting [COVID-19]. It’s just a no-brainer.”
She said she felt comfortable getting the vaccination at the Churches of Christ Care facility in Toowoomba.
“I think there were a few [residents who] decided they weren’t having it, but I’m hoping they’ll reconsider along the track.”
The region is one of the first in the country to have completed its vaccination rollout in aged care residences.
The Darling Downs and West Moreton Primary Health Network has overseen the program and its CEO, Merrilyn Strohfeldt, said it was “a mammoth task”.
GP ‘losing sleep’ over vaccinating new aged care residents
However, a local doctor has raised concerns about a lack of co-ordination to ensure new aged care residents are vaccinated.
Toowoomba GP Andrew Whittaker said he was frustrated about the reliance placed on general practitioners to get the elderly vaccinated ahead of their admission into aged-care facilities.
“I don’t get enough support from the providers,” Dr Whittaker said.
“The only way these residents can get around [is] either in maxi taxis or some even in ambulances so, logistically, it’s a very difficult exercise.”
Dr Whittaker said there was currently no mandate for people to be vaccinated before being admitted to an aged care facility and some people with the power of attorney had refused to get their relatives vaccinated.
He said other groups, including hospitals, were “passing the buck” on the issue.
Dr Whittaker — who’s been treating aged care residents for eight years — said it was a problem he lost sleep over.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation [ANMF] shares Dr Whittaker’s concerns.
Its secretary, Annie Butler, said that, while the federal government had been collecting data on vaccination rates in aged care facilities, it had not been transparent.
“Tracking all of that information hasn’t been very clear to date,” Ms Butler said.
The federal government now requires all aged care facilities to report weekly on the COVID-19 vaccination status of residents.
“This measure is to ensure that the vaccination remains as high as possible and … help monitor continued vaccination rates as new people enter facilities,” a health department spokesperson said.
“All senior Australians living in the community are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19, including before they enter residential aged care.”
Ms Butler said she hoped the new protocol would help authorities ensure residents were vaccinated.
The Department of Health said primary health networks were also working closely with aged care facilities to ensure access to vaccinations for any residents who had missed a vaccine dose or were not yet vaccinated.
The Australian Medical Association said it believed people entering aged care should be prioritised for COVID vaccinations.
“There has been a shortage of vaccines until recently,” said AMA Queensland president Chris Perry.
“Now AstraZeneca is in good supply, everyone eligible should be vaccinated as soon as possible.”
‘It should have happened yesterday’
Dr Whittaker said that, while the federal government was heading in the right direction, there was no clear pathway for how residents would get vaccinated.
He said he wanted to see greater co-operation between the state and federal governments and private agencies.
“Everybody is passing the problem to someone else. No-one wants to step up and take responsibility,” Dr Whittaker said.