The medical experts helping guide Australia’s coronavirus response have been asked to reconsider whether people working in residential aged care should be required to get the vaccine.
- An expert panel has been asked to reconsider the mandatory vaccination of residential aged care workers
- A man who lost his mother to COVID says the federal government has learnt nothing from the last aged care outbreak
- Private aged care staff have been working across multiple facilities after the federal government overturned a ban
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee — comprised of state and territory chief health officers and Commonwealth officials — decided against mandating vaccinations for aged care workers in January.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt have asked the panel to reconsider the advice as Melbourne grapples with an outbreak at the Arcare Maidstone facility.
“In terms of mandatory, we are referring that question again to the medical expert panel of state chief health officers and Commonwealth officials, so that has been referred at the request of the Prime Minister and myself,” Mr Hunt said in Canberra on Monday.
“It had previously been discussed but for medical reasons the view of that group had not advised in favour of it.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd confirmed the panel had been asked to review the advice.
“That’s work that’s under way at the moment,” Professor Kidd said.
“We expect that will also be considered by the National Cabinet later this week.”
Speaking on Afternoon Briefing, epidemiologist and infection control expert Marylouise McLaws said vaccination for workers “has to be mandated”.
“I believe people should have a choice, but not when they work with vulnerable people, disability patients and they work in a quarantine facility,” Professor McLaws said.
Mr Hunt said a 99-year-old woman living at Arcare Maidstone who had received at least one dose of the vaccine had been transferred to hospital.
A 95-year-old — who had also received at least one dose of the vaccine — was being retested, he said.
Both were asymptomatic.
Mr Hunt said that facility’s vaccination program had been brought forward.
“For those residents who did not receive first vaccinations, did not have consent of their families or provide it themselves, the strongest possible encouragement is being given to provide that consent,” he said.
An order prohibiting all residential aged care employees working across facilities has also been reinstated.
Mishandling of aged care vaccine rollout slammed as ‘ludicrous’
As Victoria works through its fourth lockdown, Spiros Vasilakis said the unfolding outbreak in aged care homes triggered “the fear to set in” after the loss of his mother Maria during the height of the pandemic last year.
He said he was furious with the way the vaccine rollout had been handled and the federal government’s inaction to address vaccine hesitancy.
“If we are not learning the lessons, if we’re not taking the precautions that are necessary to safeguard our population, then people have died in vain,” he said.
Mr Vasilakis said it was “unbelievable” and “ludicrous” that Australia had not vaccinated more aged care home residents before now.
“That just stunned me. It had me standing still for quite a while. I couldn’t believe that we have learnt absolutely nothing,” he said.
“We have got aged care staff and residents who are not fully vaccinated. We have got people who are still deliberating whether they should have the vaccine.
“That is the government’s fault … they have done nothing to really promote it properly.”
More than half of Australians older than 70 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Professor Kidd urged more Australians to get the jab.
“Please do not delay in being vaccinated if you are currently eligible, whether in Victoria or elsewhere in the country,” he said.
“And please, if you are responsible for providing consent for an elderly parent or another relative, and if you have any questions please talk to your trusted GP, nurse, Aboriginal health worker, pharmacist about the vaccine.”
‘There was no encouragement to get the vaccine’
A woman whose grandmother is a resident at Arcare Maidstone said the facility missed a critical opportunity to encourage as many residents to get vaccinated as possible.
Melbourne woman Ai-Lin Chang’s grandmother was among the two-thirds of residents who took up the offer to receive their first jab.
“It was literally just filling out the form,” Ms Chang told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“There was no encouragement to get the vaccine, or information about the risk of not getting the vaccine.
“The federal government probably could have done more at the time when we received our paperwork.”
She said her grandmother, who had advanced Alzheimer’s, experienced minimal side-effects and had since returned a negative COVID test.
“There is a huge sense of uncertainty about what’s going to happen next,” Ms Chang said.
“There is a part of you that can’t help but think, ‘What don’t we know?’
As for Vasilakis, his message to Australians is clear: “Please, just get vaccinated – don’t wait for a lockdown.”
At the midway point of the state’s circuit-breaker lockdown, Victoria has recorded 11 additional cases, taking the total number of cases recorded since the beginning of the outbreak to more than 50.