Workers could soon be offered COVID shots in their offices, just like annual flu jabs, in a bid to speed up the vaccine rollout.
But advocates for the aged-care sector – where people are still awaiting vaccines despite being promised protection months ago – are livid the federal government has seemingly “abandoned” plans to do the same for them.
“This is not good enough,” said Sean Rooney of Leading Age Services Australia.
Lieutenant General John Frewen, head of the government’s COVID vaccine taskforce, said on Tuesday states and the Commonwealth were working on yet another overhaul of the vaccine rollout.
After a slower-than-expected start, the rollout is now hitting a high gear, with daily vaccination numbers hitting about 150,000 shots per day.
But at that pace, it could be mid-2022 before every Australian is offered two shots of vaccine, so governments are working on ways to deliver more shots, faster – especially in anticipation of tens of millions of Pfizer and Moderna doses to arrive in the final quarter of this year.
Lieutenant General Frewen will lead a roundtable of business and treasury leaders on Wednesday to discuss ways to boost vaccination numbers and offer “handout-style” incentives to encourage uptake.
That will include plans to offer vaccinations at workplaces, using a similar framework to annual flu jabs often provided by employers.
Aged-care sector begs for vaccines
The idea of in-house vaccinations is exactly what aged-care workers have missed out on.
Just one-third of workers around the country have been vaccinated, despite those employees being listed in the highest-priority Phase 1a of the rollout.
Of Australia’s 910 COVID deaths, 685 were in aged care. The issue has reignited this week, after a small outbreak at an aged-care home in Sydney.
Initially, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt had forecast that entire Phase 1a group, which also included aged and disability residents as well as quarantine staff, would be vaccinated by April.
But plans for “in-reach” vaccine appointments for employees at the aged-care homes they work at were quietly shelved, with residents prioritised instead, and staff told to line up at vaccine clinics or GPs alongside the general public.
“The government declared in February that the vaccination of older Australians in aged care and the staff who care for them was a national priority. But we are still waiting for most of our staff to be vaccinated,” Mr Rooney said.
‘We’ve been abandoned’
Leading Age Services Australia has called on the federal government to help get staff vaccinated at their workplace. The Australian Council of Trade Unions is demanding the same.
But Lieutenant General Frewen said aged care “wasn’t specifically discussed” at the meeting.
“If the Morrison government is beginning to plan a broader rollout with the involvement of businesses, then they must meet immediately with unions to discuss the needs of working people – ignoring the needs of workers has been the critical error of the aged-care rollout,” ACTU president Michele O’Neil said.
“The Morrison government needs to immediately provide in-workplace vaccines for aged-care workers and paid vaccination leave so that workers can get the jab and recover without losing pay.”
Ms O’Neil has asked for the government to “make it as easy as possible for workers to get vaccinated”.
“Aged-care workers shouldn’t have to take matters into their own hands and use aged-care residents’ leftover doses – they should be provided with in-workplace vaccinations,” she said.
“Plans to vaccinate aged-care workers in their workplaces were completely abandoned.”
Until recently, the federal government wasn’t even keeping detailed records of how many aged-care workers were being vaccinated.
Council on the Ageing CEO Ian Yates called for “every possible means” to be employed to get aged-care workers vaccinated.
“That can be the government sending in teams. That can be providers utilising their connections with GPs. It can be providers organising for their staff to go to state government clinics,” he told Sky News.
“We have been concerned for a long time that we didn’t have enough strategies in place to get staff vaccinated and we remain concerned.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Australia had recorded 8.402 million vaccinations, an increase of 146,000 from the previous 24 hours.