Australia Aged care COVID vaccination blame game hits a new low — and residents are collateral damage
The lingering threat of fall Covid-19 outbreaks
The vaccines are holding Covid-19 down for now, but it could come back this fall.But what comes after the summer?
Perhaps the lowest blow in the COVID aged care blame game came when Minister Richard Colbeck suggested those nursing homes which hadn't received a single dose of the vaccine had opted out.
"It's a little disappointing, but it's been their choice," he said. That infuriated some of the owners of the 74 aged care homes around the country which have been waiting for months for a visit.
Greg Hunt seemed to follow it up last Sunday by saying that 15 per cent of residents or their families had not consented to having the vaccination.
These aged care residents are the same ones who were found by a royal commission to be neglected, malnourished and isolated. Half of them have dementia, a lot of them are in palliative care with a thousand dying every week. Others don't have family to advocate for them.
Aged care residents set for jab after staffer's ‘mystery' case
Some residents at a Melbourne aged care facility will get their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday after a staff member tested positive to COVID-19.The infection of the staff member of the Arcare home in Maidstone came even though the woman had been given her first vaccine shot on May 12. About two-thirds of the residents were given their first dose at the same time, but some refused to be inoculated.
But it seems they are fair game as a scapegoat for the shambles which is the vaccination rollout in aged care.
They weren't the only ones blamed. There was Victoria, which got us into this mess again; the AHPCC, which didn't make vaccinations mandatory for staff; the medical experts who don't know if vaccinations stop transmission; the unions who would likely challenge any restrictions on workers. And let's not forget those anti-vaxxer old folk.
If it weren't so serious, the level of spin would not be out of place in an episode of The Thick of It.
But it is deadly serious, because 655 people died from coronavirus in aged care last year and tens of thousands of residents spent months locked down and separated from family.
The figures that don't get attention
We were told that aged care residents and workers were top priority for vaccination.
Canberra withdrew rules on single-site working in aged care homes
Two more aged care homes in Melbourne have been directly affected by the latest coronavirus outbreak after staff members also worked at an aged care provider where a positive coronavirus case has been identified. There are five new local cases in the state.An email sent to aged care facilities late last week confirmed the lifting of the ban in November, which was implemented after the deaths of 655 aged care residents in Victoria during the coronavirus outbreaks of 2020.
Yet here's the reality of what happened: the federal government gave multi-million-dollar contracts (exact figures are secret) to private contractors to roll out the vaccine.
Full vaccination was supposed to have been done by Easter but that hasn't happened.
The plan to vaccinate staff on-site only happened where the contractors had spare ones going but otherwise weren't available — and no one really is really sure how many staff have actually had one, two or no jabs at all.
Australia believed Scott Morrison when he said aged care workers were given top priority for vaccinations. We just didn't know that the Federal Government wouldn't be offering it to all staff at their workplaces.
Despite this, the government keeps on message with press briefings full of stats and showing just how well they say the program is running.
Yet there are some figures which the government won't reveal which deserve real attention. For the past two days, I’ve asked the Department of Health to confirm my calculations but I haven’t received a response.
Concern over growing COVID-19 cases in aged care sector
A leading doctor has called for an overhaul of Victoria's aged care sector amid concern COVID-19 is infiltrating facilities in the state. Victoria’s circuit-breaker lockdown could be extended after coronavirus infiltrates aged care system Former Australian Medical Association president and GP Tony Bartone told Today more needed to be done to protect vulnerable residents and staff.Eleven new cases were recorded in Victoria yesterday, including two aged care employees and a 99-year-old resident. © Getty Authorities are scrambling to ensure Victoria's aged care workers are vaccinated..
But based on the data available, it appears that less than half of the country’s nursing home residents have been fully vaccinated
Just as frightening, it looks like fewer than 12 per cent of the 300,000 strong workforce have been fully vaccinated
These are staggering statistics buried in the many thrown around these past few days.
As Richard Colbeck admitted at Senate Estimates on Tuesday, more than 30,000 aged care workers took up the offer of the leftover doses to be vaccinated, making it clear that staff do want the protection.
Onlyaround the country went and queued up with the general public to receive their shots.
You don't need to be a strategist to see the problem
Adding to the confusion, as late as March, the Department of Health's own implementation plan for vaccinations told aged care workers they would be vaccinated on-site.
When and why did it change and why weren't there alternatives set up?
A third of workers in aged care are not native English speakers, many use public transport to get around and some are hesitant about vaccinations — yet they were left entirely to their own devices.
Eight NSW aged care facilities yet to get a single vaccine dose
Only about eight per cent of the NSW aged care workforce have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with 10,348 having received both doses of the vaccine and 12,346 workers receiving a first dose. Eight aged care facilities in NSW are yet to receive a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 207 homes are awaiting second doses, more than three months after Australia's vaccination rollout began. In February aged care residents and workers were marked as the highest priority group for vaccination in phase 1a.
You don't need to be a master strategist to see that vaccinating the workers who live in the community and go in and out of aged care facilities should have been top priority, instead of the mainly immobile aged care residents.
But on Tuesday, Colbeck was still undecided whether the vaccine should be mandatory for aged care workers, his reason being that the jury was still out on whether the vaccination prevents transmission.
It's a puzzling argument when we've ensured our top health, emergency and hotel quarantine workers are absolutely fully vaccinated.
Why staff still work at multiple sites
Then there's the issue of why aged care staff in Victoria were still being allowed to work at multiple facilities.
There's a simple reason why the government allows that to happen around the country: some providers would collapse without them. They rely on casual staff working minimum hours for a minimum wage with few benefits.
The whole episode has laid bare, one more time, just how hands-off the government is when it comes to aged care, despite the catastrophic consequences the sector may now face.
Last year, it denied it was to blame, insisting it had a comprehensive national plan which was thwarted by the disastrous nature of the disease.
This time, it had a plan which simply wasn't implemented.
It raises real questions about whether the record $18 billion committed to the sector after the aged care royal commission will make any real difference.
Aged care workforce: the slow-motion catastrophe we’re watching without action .
Australia will need hundreds of thousands of extra aged care workers in the next 20 years. Where will they come from? If we're hoping to import them, we might be in for a shock.Only, the problems won’t go away in the lifetime of the people currently in power. On current policy settings, those problems will still be afflicting our aged care system when they themselves need care at the end of their lives.