As Melburnians enter week two of lockdown, the demand for vaccines keeps growing.
- According to the Health Workers Union, only a fifth of staff at aged care homes surveyed in Victoria have been fully vaccinated
- Almost 37 per cent have received their first dose, the survey found
Only 3 per cent of residents in the 85 group homes run by Disability Trust in the ACT and NSW have been fully vaccinated
But many considered among the most vulnerable, such as aged care workers and those with a disability, say they have been left behind in the vaccine rollout and are still waiting to get the jab.
And new data indicates the majority of aged care workers in Victoria are yet to be vaccinated.
Victoria-based aged care nurse Honorine Dowie is one of them.
She missed out on getting vaccinated in her workplace as she was away on leave and she is now facing long waits at public vaccine hubs.
“Where I live in Colac, they were referring people to Geelong because they’re totally booked out for the next few weeks as well,” she told 7.30.
“There are walk-in appointments available down in Geelong. I live in Colac, that’s an hour’s trip away. And just by reading on social media, there’s been up to six-hour waits for people to get in and get the vaccination done there.”
Her employer is now helping her get the vaccine, but in the meantime, while Victoria’s outbreak continues to grow, she has stopped working her second job at another care facility.
“I’m very passionate about my career and where I work.”
Data given to 7.30 by the Health Workers Union shows only a fifth of staff at aged care homes surveyed in Victoria have been fully vaccinated.
Almost 37 per cent have received their first dose.
And a quarter of respondents reported having problems getting a vaccine.
“The overwhelming majority of aged care workers want to be fully vaccinated but are having trouble getting access to the vaccine,” Health Workers Union secretary Diana Asmar said.
“It is the federal government’s responsibility to calmly and proactively allay these concerns via public information campaigns.”
Infectious disease physician Peter Collignon told 7.30 Australia’s vaccine rollout had been hampered by supply problems, but he said the logistics of the rollout also left much to be desired.
“We need to work out better how we get people who really should be at the front of the queue not having to wait in a telephone line for two hours to get a vaccine,” he said.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the federal health department said the vaccination of aged care workers was the shared responsibility of Commonwealth and state and territory governments, and extra teams were being established in Victoria to help vaccinate workers.
“From 15 June it will be mandatory for aged care providers to report on the COVID-19 vaccination status of their workforce in residential aged care,” the statement said.
“It will become mandatory for in home and community aged care providers in the coming weeks.”
Teacher would like to be prioritised
Primary school teacher Maree Shields has returned to teaching her students online during Victoria’s latest lockdown.
“When the announcement was made last week that we were going into lockdown, I had students in my class crying. I had students in my class going ‘woo-hoo’. It’s a very mixed bag,” she said.
She said she believed schools should return to face-to-face learning in classrooms as soon as it was safe, but she would like to be vaccinated first and teachers should be another priority group to receive the vaccine.
“I’ve been a little bit worried about being exposed to it at work,” she said.
“The school that I worked at last year … there were a number of cases within our school that did contract it during the lockdown period.
“I do think being vaccinated is important. We can’t control where our colleagues go, we can’t control where the families of our students go and who they come into contact with, and there’s always that unknown element.”
While the lockdown and remote learning was helping to keep unvaccinated people safe, it did come at a cost, Ms Shields said.
Last year some of her students struggled during online learning and she worried about the impact on their education.
“If you want them to get the full benefit from their education, they need to work together. You can’t expect them to be socially distancing,” she said.
“Mental health and being able to socialise and get the help when they need it, I think that’s going to be where the issues come in.”
A report conducted after Melbourne’s lockdown last year found just 0.03 per cent of students (337 of 1 million students enrolled) had an infection linked to a school outbreak.
The report, by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, recommended school closures be a last resort as they had unintended negative consequences on children’s learning and mental health.
“On no occasion really have schools made a lot of difference with the low levels of transmission we’ve had.”
Ms Shields, 40, has just become eligible for a vaccination, however she has had problems booking one in.
“Now I am eligible, but I can’t get through on the hotline to make an appointment. And I have tried a number of times,” she said.
“Making it a priority would be really helpful. And it would mean that the students wouldn’t miss out on as much of that face-to-face learning time because we would be able to stay at school on a more consistent basis.”
‘It goes beyond disappointment’
Frank Mattesich is worried about his 45-year-old daughter Tanya, who has an intellectual disability.
She lives in a group home for people with a disability on the New South Wales Mid North Coast.
Neither Tanya nor the other residents and staff have been vaccinated. That is despite all of them belonging to group 1a — the highest-priority category in the federal government’s vaccine rollout — which includes people with a disability and disability workers.
“Why are we doing this when the first group hasn’t been completed? And no answers have been forthcoming from anywhere … nobody has given me, as a parent, any suitable answer.”
He is very disappointed with the pace of the rollout and his inability to get answers from the government on when his daughter will be vaccinated.
“I think it goes beyond disappointment and I don’t have much faith in whoever was organising the logistics of this exercise,” he said.
He said if his daughter contracted COVID-19 it would be very traumatic for her as she would not understand what was happening and “wouldn’t cope”.
“She doesn’t understand what’s happening to her. I mean, when she gets the flu, she’s pretty upset with the flu. And this is a lot worse than the flu,” he said.
Mr Mattesich, who is based in Melbourne, said the federal government should be racing to vaccinate the people who needed it most.
“I’ve written to Minister Hunt,” he said.
“I’ve written to the opposition. I’ve written to the National Disability Services. And nobody has given an answer as to the reason why they have not adhered to the original schedule. All that comes forth is to say, ‘Oh, it’ll be soon. It’ll be soon.’
“Well, I think now, four months later, it’s not happening.”
Professor Collignon agreed the vaccination of people in group 1a should be the most pressing priority in the vaccine rollout.
“I think the top group do all need to be vaccinated,” he said.
“And if we get 90 per cent at least of that group vaccinated, they’re all in a better position because they’ll transmit less to each other.
“But also it gives them huge protection. It will decrease their death rate by 90 per cent as well.”
In a statement, the federal health department said it was working to vaccinate people with a disability as quickly and safely as possible.
It added: “Those who are unable to leave their homes for travel to vaccination hubs or GPs are able to talk to their GPs to do a home visit.”
Now tired of waiting for the federal vaccine rollout, the Disability Trust, the organisation that runs Tanya Mattesich’s group home for people with a disability, is organising vaccinations itself.
Edward Birt, chief operating officer of the Disability Trust, said across its 85 homes and 356 residents in NSW and the ACT, only 3 per cent were fully vaccinated, while 26 per cent had received a first dose.