The New England North West’s largest residential aged care provider has criticised the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. 

Key points:

  • With just 5 per cent of McLean Care’s staff at its four centres receiving the vaccine, its owner is asking questions about the rollout
  • Staff want to be vaccinated but were not prioritised because they work in aged care
  • The Minister says he is working closely with officials to ensure “vital rural workers are vaccinated” 

Just 5 per cent of workers at McLean Care — which has four homes across the region — have been given their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

It’s prompted manager of clinical governance, risk and compliance Brendan Hartfiel to question whether the ‘priority’ group is being treated as such.

He said the demand from workers to get the jab wasn’t being met.

“It is concerning that those workers that were meant to be one of the first cabs off the rank actually have no avenue to meet their desire, and there doesn’t seem to be any desire to get them done as a matter of priority”, he said.

Mr Hartfiel said recent cases in Victorian aged care homes highlighted the need for the “priority group” to remain a priority.

Residential aged care workers are in Phase 1A of the vaccine rollout and were originally meant to be given the vaccine alongside the residents they look after.

But in March the federal government changed its advice and told staff to sort out their own vaccinations, promising extra resources like pop-up clinics and dedicated aged care workers’ teams to deliver the jab.

It said the medical advice was clear in prioritising residents first.

About 68 per cent of residents have had their first of two vaccinations at the Killean Residential Care, Inverell, and Apex Road, Gunnedah, facilities; 80 per cent at Alkira Aged Care, Gunnedah and 86 per cent at Guyra’s Kolora Residential Care.

A sign that reads

At the Inverell site, Killean, 94 of the 138 residents have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.(

ABC New England North West: Jennifer Ingall

)

But Mr Hartfiel said the statistics of staff vaccinations were not so positive, with only 1 in 20 having received a dose.

“My experience, I was put into the over 50s population as opposed to being prioritised as an aged care worker. Even though I had a letter from HR saying I was an aged care worker, it made no difference.

“Still the message seems to be with aged care workers is that even though we were in the highest priority list, that priority hasn’t carried through to any other avenues of getting the vaccination.

“That to me is unfair.

“But before that, you need to look at the COVID outbreaks in residential aged care facilities throughout 2020. 

“There’s a reason we’re high risk, and that risk should be acted on, and that’s what’s not fair because the risk isn’t being acted on.”

‘Give them access’

Under the Federal Government’s Excess Doses Policy, which was brought into effect in March, residents who give advanced consent will receive their vaccination as a priority.

The policy says “any left-over vaccine doses should be used to the extent possible to minimise wastage”. This includes going to aged care staff.

But Mr Hartfiel said this makes getting the vaccine unreliable, in an already hard-to-reach regional area.

“There was certainly one of the local abattoirs in Inverell that had some excess of doses so they were offered to some of our aged care staff members,” Mr Hartfiel said.

He said “greater access” was certainly needed.

A man wearing a white shirt, blue tie, glasses stands on a grassy patch talking to two people.

Federal Regional Health Minister Mark Coulton said he’s aware of the challenges.(

Supplied: Mark Coulton

)

Minister for Regional Health and Parkes MP Mark Coulton said in a statement, he “is aware of challenges faced by rural health workers in accessing COVID-19 vaccination, particularly those aged under 50”.

The Minister said he was “working closely” with Health Department officials to ensure the “vital rural workers – and the communities they live and work in – are vaccinated”.

Throughout the national vaccine rollout in aged care, workers can receive a COVID-19 vaccine where doses are available after residents are fully vaccinated.

To date, more than 23,200 doses have been administered to workers through the Commonwealth’s in-reach clinics across NSW.

‘Give them access’: New England North West aged care provider criticises COVID vaccine rollout
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