State and territory leaders have not agreed to force aged care workers to get a COVID vaccine, at a national cabinet meeting on Friday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison went into the meeting with a bid to lobby state and territory leaders to overrule medical experts’ advice and make the vaccine mandatory for aged care workers.
He was unable to convince the other leaders, but said the group was “leaning heavily” toward the idea.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee – comprised of state and territory chief health officers and Commonwealth officials – decided against mandating vaccinations for aged care workers in January and again earlier this week.
Mr Morrison said national cabinet had asked for further advice from the AHPPC about how a mandatory vaccine program would work and how long it would take.
“For the vaccinations to be made mandatory, for aged care workers, that has to be done by public health orders as it’s done for flu vaccinations and followed by the many states and territories,” he said.
“I was firmly of this view [and] it is supported firmly by states and territories that we need to look at how we can do this safely.”
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said health experts had raised concerns that making the vaccine mandatory could have “unintended consequences” like people leaving their jobs instead of being forced to have the jab.
He said when public health orders were introduced in Perth making the vaccine mandatory for hotel quarantine workers, “some people chose to leave the industry”.
“We don’t want that to be an issue,” Professor Kelly said.
“Ensure we are really focusing on our culturally and linguistically diverse workforce that are often working in these particular settings, to make sure they have the full truth and understanding of the vaccine.”
Professor Kelly said the other key part was getting the data on how many aged-care workers are vaccinated.
Earlier this week it was revealed the government did not have an exact figure on how many workers had been administered the vaccine. It announced on Friday that from June 15 all aged-care facilities will have to report worker vaccinations.
“Get the data was the other thing, is this an issue? Are people coming forward?” Professor Kelly said.
“We will have much better data in coming weeks in relation to that.
“If that extra thing [mandatory vaccines] is needed, we will definitely go to that point.”
Mr Morrison said state and territories were already working to make sure aged-care workers were given priority when it came to getting a vaccine.
Vaccine rollout expanded
The vaccine rollout is also being pulled forward, meaning that from next Tuesday anyone aged 40-49 will be able to get a vaccine.
Health Department boss Brendan Murphy said all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 16 and anyone on the NDIS could also access vaccines from now.
He said there were enough doses of the Pfizer vaccine in clinics across the country to open up the rollout sooner than anticipated.
“It is a simplification [of the rollout], given many states and territories started to offer access to Pfizer for 40- to 49-year-olds,” Professor Murphy said.
COVID payments footed by Commonwealth
On Thursday, the government announced a “temporary COVID disaster payment” to support people who lose work during lockdowns that last more than seven days.
The payment was created in response to the latest lockdown in greater Melbourne, which was extended earlier this week.
At its meeting on Friday, national cabinet discussed how the payments would be divided between state and territory, and the federal government.
“The cost-sharing will work on the basis that the Commonwealth will provide the direct personal income support through the temporary disaster recovery payment for COVID, and that state and territory governments will meet the costs of business support that are as a result of lockdowns,” Mr Morrison said.
“It’s a very clear allocation of responsibilities.”