COVID-19 vaccinations should be mandatory for people visiting nursing homes to protect elderly residents during virus outbreaks, according to the peak body representing not-for-profit aged care providers.

Key points:

  • Full COVID-19 vaccination has been mandatory for residential aged care workers since September
  • A graduated approach is recommended when it comes to making COVID-19 vaccines compulsory for aged care visitors
  • Aged care facilities have a duty of care to protect their residents against COVID-19

Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) is working with consumer groups and other provider organisations on a revised industry Code for Visitation to Residential Aged Care.

ACSA chief executive officer Paul Sadler said a proposed new code was before the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), made up of the country’s chief health officers, for feedback.

“Aged care homes are the frontline of the pandemic — this is our most vulnerable group of people,” Mr Sadler said.

“Everyone who visits aged care should bring the protection of a vaccine with them.

“We’ve done surveys in the past of residents and many of them don’t want people coming in and putting their lives at risk.

Group of people at an aged care centre.

Aged care facilities have a duty of care to protect their residents against COVID-19, lawyer Michael Tooma says.(ABC News)

Clarity about child visitors needed

Although the code would be advisory, rather than mandatory, Mr Sadler said the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) referred to the code when it considered complaints and best practice in nursing homes.

Proof of flu vaccination has been mandatory for entry into aged care facilities during the coronavirus pandemic, except for people who have a medical contraindication to the jab.

But Mr Sadler said a graduated approach was recommended when it came to making COVID-19 vaccines compulsory for aged care visitors.

“You clearly don’t need restrictions on people visiting where there’s no community transmission,” he said.

Until Australia’s medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), approves COVID-19 vaccinations for residents aged under 12, Mr Sadler said outdoor visits with children could be arranged to reduce the risk of potential transmission.

“We do need some clarity about children — from our point of view, they do need to be able to visit,” Mr Sadler said.

Borders to reopen on December 17

Full COVID-19 vaccination has been mandatory for residential aged care workers since September.

Queensland will reopen its interstate borders on December 17, when double vaccination rates of residents aged 16 and older are expected to have hit 80 per cent.

But that still leaves more than 800,000 Queensland adults unvaccinated, along with hundreds of thousands of children.

Daily COVID-19 numbers will start to rise once borders reopen to Victoria, NSW and the ACT before Christmas.

Queensland has been successful in keeping COVID-19 out of aged care facilities since the start of the pandemic, frequently locking them down during outbreaks.

Federal government data shows almost 3,000 people living in Australian government-subsidised residential aged care facilities developed COVID-19 during the pandemic.

Of those, more than 800 died, with most of the cases and deaths occurring in NSW and Victoria.

White-haired older woman hugging a young teenage girl standing in a green forest.

There are more than 800,000 Queensland adults unvaccinated, along with hundreds of thousands of children.(Pexels: cottonbro)

Asked about the possibility of introducing a public health directive requiring aged care visitors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a Queensland Health spokesperson said: “Any changes to mandatory … vaccination arrangements will be communicated to the public.”

“Mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations are currently required for residential aged care staff, contractors, volunteers and students, because they work with vulnerable people at risk of serious illness if they are infected with COVID-19,” the spokesperson said.

“There is real-world evidence to suggest aged care facilities with mandatory vaccination requirements for staff have seen less transmission and subsequent less serious illness and fewer deaths.

“Most staff at these facilities work long hours, regularly coming into contact with a number of residents across multiple locations.

The foyer at St Vincent's Care Services facility Marycrest in Kangaroo Point, Brisbane.

Almost 3,000 people living in Australian government-subsidised residential aged care facilities developed COVID-19 during the pandemic.(ABC News: Freya Petersen)

Duty of care to protect residents

Michael Tooma, managing partner of law firm Clyde and Co, said aged care facilities had a duty of care to protect their residents against COVID-19.

“As part of their duty of care, they need to take steps to mitigate the risk … so far as reasonably practical, of COVID, particularly given the vulnerability of the resident community,” Mr Tooma said.

“My view is the initiative should be led by the aged care facilities themselves.

Griffith University virologist Nigel McMillan said he supported mandatory COVID vaccination for aged care visitors to protect the elderly.

Professor McMillan said even when aged care residents were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, they “often make only partial response, so aren’t fully protected”.

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Proposed changes to nursing homes could see unvaccinated visitors banned and under 12s confined to outside meet-ups
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