The deadline for all aged-care workers to be vaccinated looms next month, but barely half of the cohort have been able to access a jab.
It comes as a new report finds Australia is already facing a shortfall of aged-care workers, requiring at least 17,000 each year “just to meet basic standards of care”.
Health Minister Greg Hunt says he is confident all aged-care workers will be vaccinated by the September 17 deadline, but with less than 40 days to go, only 56 per cent of those workers have yet received even a first dose of vaccine.
“Every aged-care facility in Australia is expected to and, on the advice that I have, does have a plan to complete that vaccination process,” Mr Hunt said on Monday afternoon.
It is unclear what level of action will be taken against workers who don’t meet that requirement by September.
Aged-care workers are classed in the highest-priority Phase 1a of the vaccine rollout, alongside aged and disability care residents, disability workers, and front-line health and border workers.
Vaccinations among aged-care residents and front-line staff are very high, but vaccinating aged and disability care workers has been a long-running problem, with very low rates despite being eligible for jabs since February.
“The latest advice that I have is that there are approximately 275,357 staff across aged-care services, and 257,143 vaccinations have been administered across those 275,000 staff,” Mr Hunt said.
That figure included both first and second doses.
Mr Hunt said there had been 156,340 people who had received at least a first dose, representing just 56.8 per cent of the total workforce.
Of those, 100,000 had been fully vaccinated with a second dose.
Backflips on vaccination providers
Over the weekend, Mr Hunt announced the federal government would offer additional payments to vaccination providers who set up clinics at aged-care facilities to immunise staff at their workplaces.
That in-reach strategy was the same one earlier shelved by the government.
“The additional incentives are offered in recognition of the importance of vaccinating workers against COVID-19 to support the wellbeing of the vulnerable people they care for,” Mr Hunt said.
“COVID-19 vaccination will be mandatory for full-time, part-time and casual residential aged-care workers, volunteers engaged by the facility, and students on placement.”
Despite the low overall rate across the nation, Mr Hunt said some facilities – including the TLC provider in Victoria – had already reached 90 per cent vaccination among their staff.
In a press conference, the PM said vaccinating aged-care workers had been “one of the highest taskings” of the federal Operation COVID Shield, which he said had been “working through it systematically”.
However, he noted no state or territory had yet put in public health orders to legally mandate vaccination of aged-care workers.
“But we’re doing is working with the providers to ensure there is a transparency, not just at a state level but at a facility level, to ensure that residents and their families understand what is occurring at those facilities and the levels of vaccination,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Hunt said he had “no reason to believe the states will do anything other than proceed with the public health orders.” He said every facility was “expected” to meet the vaccination requirement.
Mr Morrison said in June that the federal government would “work together with the states to ensure compliance with those orders”, and said he wanted full vaccination “more sooner” than September 17.
Report shows failings
The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) released a report Duty of Care on Tuesday.
It found that Australia was facing massive challenges in meeting demands for the aged-care workforce, with an ageing population and rising life expectancy rates requiring another 110,000 workers over the next decade.
CEDA chief economist Jarrod Ball claimed Australia had “failed” to properly prepare for this, and warned the true numbers “may prove to be even more dire than this”.
“This requires a massive commitment from the federal government, the kind we haven’t seen to date,” Mr Ball said.
“We have not come anywhere near the growth in workers we need to meet demand. The federal government must commit to increasing funding for the sector to meet the workforce challenge.”
The 2021 federal budget included a $17.7 billion package for aged care, including big spending on attracting new employees and retaining existing workforce.
However, CEDA said more was needed, including providing “much better” wages.