News Barely a third of Phase 1a disability workers are vaccinated
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Barely a third of Phase 1a disability workers are vaccinated

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After five months of Australia’s COVID vaccination program, it’s unclear exactly how many people in the highest priority have received a vaccination.

The federal government is only able to confirm fewer than half of aged care and disability workers are immunised.

Tracking down statistics on inoculations for quarantine, border and front-line health workers is even trickier, with the federal department and many states unable to supply such figures, and throwing media inquiries back on each other.

“With only a very small percentage of the Australian population vaccinated, we need the Commonwealth to play its part and deliver the vaccines we need to get our country out of this pandemic,” a Victorian government spokesperson told The New Daily.

Collating data on Australia’s vaccine rollout has been difficult, with state and federal governments holding different statistics and not always immediately sharing those numbers with one another.

For instance, until recently the federal government didn’t have total oversight of federal aged-care staff vaccination numbers, because many workers get vaccinated by state-run clinics or GPs.

Disability workers: Phase 1a explained

Nearly five months ago, Phase 1a commenced on February 21.

That rollout phase targeted four cohorts, identified as the most vulnerable and at risk of contracting COVID.

Those were, according to government documents:

  • 70,000 border and quarantine workers
  • 100,000 front-line health workers
  • 318,000 aged care and disability staff
  • 190,000 aged care and disability residents
  • For a total of 678,000 people in Phase 1a.

As of Thursday, Australia had administered 9.631 million doses, up 162,000 in the previous 24 hours.

Initially, the federal government projected Phase 1a would be completed within “six weeks” of beginning, which would have been early April.

So, 145 days on from the first vaccinations beginning in Australia, The New Daily asked the federal health department, and health departments of every state and territory, one simple question:

“What is the vaccination rate of people in Phase 1a of the COVID vaccine rollout?”

There was no simple answer.

Aged and disability numbers

The federal department provided relatively clear statistics on aged and disability care residents and staff vaccinations.

“As at 11 July, almost 38 per cent (39,789) of NDIS screened disability workers have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and over 18 per cent (19,366) have been fully vaccinated,” a spokesperson told TND.

“More than 52 per cent (14,251) of NDIS participants aged 16 and over, living in shared accommodation of two or more people (disability and aged-care settings), have received at least one dose.”

The federal government came under intense criticism in recent months after only tiny numbers of disability residents – described as a “trickle” – had been vaccinated.

In May, Health Minister Greg Hunt said just 999 had been vaccinated.

Vaccine rollout
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has always talked up the vaccine rollout. Photo: AAP

On aged care, following changes to obligations on reporting staff vaccinations to the Commonwealth, the department said nearly 98 per cent of facilities had registered worker details.

Of 276,209 staff reported by providers, 116,390 or 42 per cent had received a first dose.

Of that, 67,003 (24 per cent) received a second dose too, the department said.

The department said it had redeployed ‘roving clinics’ to aged-care facilities in NSW, in response to the current outbreak, vaccinating another 1324 residents and 7524 workers.

The department said all 2566 Commonwealth aged-care homes had received first and second dose visits, vaccinating nearly 160,000 residents (86 per cent of the total).

Front-line worker stats not easy to find

However, other Phase 1a data was harder to secure.

The federal department said stats for border, quarantine and front-line health workers were held by the states; most states directed questions to the Commonwealth.

“The federal department of health is responsible for the COVID-19 vaccination rollout and will be best placed to respond to your questions,” was NSW Health’s full response to TND‘s questions.

A spokesperson for Northern Territory Health said the jurisdiction had given 116,000 vaccine doses, but that “information on occupation is not collected” and data on health, quarantine and border workers “is not available”.

Part of the issue, as Australian Capital Territory’s health department told TND, is not every Phase 1a person will identify themselves as being in Phase 1a when getting a jab.

Aged care vaccination rates
The government says aged-care vaccinations are essentially complete. Photo: AAP

“It is not possible to tell how many workers may have instead identified in other categories listed in Phase 1b, such as “a critical and high-risk worker” or a “health, aged care or disability worker (including volunteers), or were eligible based on their age,” ACT Health said.

The territory said it provided 8600 first doses and 8100 second doses to health workers, adding “only vaccinated staff are used for quarantine or border work”.

Queensland Health said it had given 710,110 vaccine doses and “reached practical completion of Phase 1a” in April.

However, a spokesperson couldn’t give exact numbers on what ‘completion’ meant, saying “we’re not breaking down the data that far”.

In Western Australia, 4380 border workers had received their first dose and 3857 had their second.

Among front-line health workers, it was 8520 first doses and 7386 second doses.

The health departments of Tasmania and South Australia did not respond to TND‘s requests.

Victoria did not provide a stats breakdown, but also said “all” their front-line health, quarantine and borders workers were vaccinated.

So where does that leave us, in terms of the original question; the vaccination rate of people in Phase 1a of the COVID vaccine rollout?

Essentially, facing an incomplete picture of data and no clear answer, despite it now being more than three months after the federal government had planned to have the whole cohort finished.

Victoria called on the federal government to provide more vaccines to states.

“We urgently need the Commonwealth to commit to significantly more vaccine supply for our state-run centres alongside extra doses for GPs so we can vaccinate more Victorians,” the state spokesperson said.

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