Health authorities have changed their advice for Victorian aged care residents, meaning they can now get a COVID-19 vaccine within two weeks of getting the flu jab.

Key points:

  • The Chief Medical Officer says the medical advice is the benefit of a COVID-19 vaccine outweighs the risks
  • The health advice for everyone outside of aged care in Victoria is to wait two weeks between COVID-19 and flu vaccines
  • The federal opposition say it is a “scandal” there are still aged care residents who have not had a COVID-19 vaccine

Previously, the expert group on immunisations, ATAGI, had recommended that the minimum interval between a COVID-19 and influenza vaccine was 14 days.

But ATAGI also said there would be circumstances where shortening that interval would be justified, including if there was an “imminent need” to provide protection from either the flu of COVID-19.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said given the outbreak in Victoria, he sought advice from ATAGI to see if this situation would warrant a change to the official rules, as it was “crucial” to make sure residents were vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The very few facilities in Melbourne, and in Victoria more broadly, that have not yet received one dose is mostly because they’d had the flu vaccine in the last couple of weeks and it was being delayed,” he said.

Professor Kelly said he wrote to the facilities that had not received vaccines yet to let them know of the change in advice “for this specific event, at this specific time”.

“To be very clear, the general advice around Australia outside of aged care is to keep the two-week gap,” he said.

The federal opposition has raised concerns about the safety of aged care residents in Victoria amid the current outbreak, given more than 25 facilities were still waiting to receive their first vaccine doses yesterday.

It was revealed yesterday that of the 598 facilities in Victoria, 569 had received a first dose, leaving 29 facilities completely unvaccinated.

Since then, 13 have received doses and the government said all remaining aged care homes would receive their first doses by tomorrow.

It said 361 facilities had had two doses.

Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler said given how quickly the virus spread and how deadly its effect was in aged care homes during Melbourne’s second wave last year, the statistics were a “scandal”.

“As well, there’s several hundred aged care facilities in Victoria that have only had one dose.

Aged care residents and workers, as well as disability care residents and workers, and those working in hotel quarantine or on the international borders, are all in the first and highest priority phase of the vaccine rollout.

Those groups were identified as either being most at risk of suffering severe illness or dying from the disease, or being at the highest risk of contracting it.

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Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck says homes still waiting for vaccines will get them soon.

The concerns were raised by the Opposition as Victoria was put under a seven-day lockdown to curb its current outbreak.

Victoria’s second wave left 820 people dead with data revealing that 95 per cent of national COVID aged care deaths happened in Victoria.

Nationally, 910 people have died from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton reiterated the need to have everyone — residents and staff — in aged care vaccinated.

“We know how vulnerable [residents] are,” he said.

“It was the epicentre of Victoria’s second wave and so many tragic deaths occurred in aged care.”

Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino criticised the federal government for the delay in the broad vaccine rollout.

“If we had the Commonwealth’s vaccine program effectively rolled out, we may well not be here today,” he said.

Aged Care Services Minister Richard Colbeck said aged care homes still waiting to receive first doses of the vaccine should be covered in the next couple of weeks, but that he was “very comfortable” with the rollout so far.

He said given the outbreak in Victoria, aged care homes there were being prioritised.

“It’s not an overnight exercise, it needs to be done safely and progressively which is exactly what we’ve done,” Senator Colbeck said.

“We will have all of those providers done very quickly and as I’ve said a number of times we’ve prioritised those remaining ones in Victoria.

Senator Colbeck said the government had been progressively working through the more than 2,500 aged care homes nationwide, including scheduling vaccinations around flu shots.

Health advice changed to allow Victorian aged care residents to get COVID vaccines after flu jabs
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