Mandatory vaccination proposal splits aged care

Aged care industry representatives are split over a proposal to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for workers, with some operators concerned additional demands would reduce goodwill, increase “rebellion” and entrench worker shortages.

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The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee is assessing a proposal from Australian Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt to make the vaccinations mandatory, as has happened in previous influenza seasons.

Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said that they have repeatedly urged the protection of older Australians throughout the pandemic.

“It must be a national priority to do all we can to protect older Australians in-care and the staff who look after them, from the coronavirus,” he said.

“Part of doing all we can to protect older Australians in-care is to consider mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for aged care workers – assuming it is safe to do so and with appropriate exemptions for workers.”

He said it was, appropriately, a consideration for the AHPCC based on medical expertise. A previous review of mandatory provisions deemed it unnecessary to make it compulsory for workers.

Revelations during Senate Estimates this week, combined with the urgency of the latest Victorian outbreak, have focussed attention on Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

By Wednesday, June 2, two residents and two workers from Arcare Maidstone had tested positive for COVID-19. One of the residents had their second vaccination dose two days earlier.

It also emerged about 10 per cent of the aged care workforce had been vaccinated, and specific datasets were not being kept. Workers were meant to be a priority group due to the potential impact on vulnerable residents.

HammondCare Chief Operating and Risk Officer Angela Raguz said providers would face challenges enforcing any mandatory vaccine requirements.

Strong infection control principles, a proportionate community response and a measured risk management approach was important, she said.

“It will almost certainly result in a reduction in people prepared to enter the sector,” she said.

“It will take extensive resources and to respond to the staff concerns, particularly those in the AstraZeneca age group. I know the risks of adverse reactions are small, but it’s not easy to convince in our case over 1000 staff that this is the case.”

She said trust in the vaccine was still building and people would continue to be concerned until the medium to longer term.

“One of the strengths of the program to date has been that it is not mandated,” she said. “Very few staff have rejected the idea of having the vaccine but making it mandatory will increase the ‘rebellion’ effect.

“The best strategy is a balanced one. We strongly encourage our staff, residents and their families to be vaccinated along with the rest of the population.”

In Queensland, Anglicare Southern Queensland Executive Director Karen Crouch said the vaccine was an important part of the overall response to protecting those in residential aged care.

“Our aged care staff are strong advocates for our residents and they absolutely want to do whatever they can to keep them safe,” she said.

“We have had a 100 per cent uptake among our aged care staff for this year’s influenza vaccination, and we expect there would be a similar uptake for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We don’t anticipate that making the vaccine mandatory for residential aged care staff would create a workforce shortage for our services.”

She pointed to their comprehensive existing processes and systems in place to ensure compliance with legislative requirements, including mandatory vaccinations, qualifications and training.

The nurses’ union, however, has been outraged by the idea.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Federal Assistant Secretary Lori-Anne Sharp said the mandatory vaccine issue was a “smokescreen” for the failure to facilitate vaccinations for the workforce.

“It’s quite extraordinary that the government is talking about mandating the COVID vaccines in private aged care when they have fundamentally failed to have access to those workers in private age care,” she said.

“There is no transparency around it. Given the workers haven’t had access to it, talking about mandating it is quite extraordinary. If you encourage and offer an environment where workers have access and appropriate leave … then workers will do it.

“We know nurses and carers working in the health industry are supportive of vaccinations. They understand the public health response.” 

6 COMMENTS

  1. It is simply staggeringly stupid that the staff employed to care and protect vulnerable elderly residents aren’t required to be vaccinated. I believe that non vaccinated staff will continue to be the weak link with covid infection in facilities. Every one that enters a facility, resident, staff or visitor should be required to be fully vaccinated…or just don’t come in at all.
    I believe residents safety outweighs all other opinion or belief.

  2. When family members have died from blood clots not from the vaccination it is so wrong to tell people they have to have something that may kill them or worse leave them brain damaged, if they make it mandatory then they should offer the safer vaccination Pfizer, I would have that immediately but I don’t qualify, but I do qualify for the risks of the other vaccination, I would rather quit my job

  3. To hear only 10 per cent of aged care staff are vaccinated is breathtakingly stupid, it must be 100 per cent and mandatory, I’m vaccinated and no issue, must be no jab no no job policy, aged care is the highest risk of infection, (edited under Inside Ageing policy), those in charge and in the health unions should be ashamed of themselves, if there is more deaths in aged care the owners, those in management and unions must face the full force of the laws when sued, get vaccinated now, I’m so over this misinformation bullshit scaring off (edited) workers from getting the jab, end of story

  4. What happened to human rights?
    I’ve been working in aged care for 15 years never had the flu shot until it was mandatory never had the flu worked many outbreaks. I will not be having the covid vaccine being part of a clinical trial not knowing the long term side effects. I will walk from aged care along with half my workmates if they make it mandatory…
    This will be the biggest mistake the government makes considering the shortage already with nurses and care staff – 90% of the people I know in the industry will walk.

  5. I cannot believe how naive people are. So lets vaccinate all staff but allow non vaccinated family members to visit the facility. Where is the sense in that? I also know many that will walk if it is made mandatory. Even if just 5% leave as a result, it will cripple the industry that is already struggling to get aged care staff, especially nursing staff.

  6. I work in aged care and have worked in facility, community and currently work for a private client as a 24hr carer. I will NOT be a guinea pig for an unproven vaccine. I am not an anti-vaxer. I bowed down and had the flu vaccine last year in order to keep my job in aged care. I do not believe I should be made to have any of the covid vaccines as we don’t know the long term side effects from these experimental drugs. I too would rather resign than get the jab.

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