Mandatory vaccination for aged care workers but what about other workers and students?

Australia’s National Cabinet has agreed that “COVID-19 vaccinations are to be mandated for residential aged care workers as a condition of working in an aged care facility through shared state, territory and Commonwealth authorities and compliance measures.”

A week after the announcement, a number of questions remain about Australia’s aged care sector vaccination program: what about other workers, what about aged care students and trainees, and why has the roll-out been so slow?

Other Vaccine Mandates for Australian Health and Aged-care Workers Exist

In Australia, this is not the first time we’ve moved to mandates to improve vaccine uptake among the health- and aged-care sectors, Associate Professor Holly Seale writes in The Conversation.

“Many health- and aged-care workers are required to show evidence they’re protected from a range of vaccine-preventable diseases. For example, annual flu vaccines are mandatory for those working in high-risk clinical settings, including staff in NSW Health aged-care facilities. With the introduction of these mandates, we have not documented mass departures of staff,” she says.

Home Care and Other Aged Care Facility Workers

The Sydney Morning Herald reports: “Leading aged care providers say there’s a blind spot in the Commonwealth’s plan to have all residential aged care workers vaccinated by September and urged national cabinet to extend mandatory vaccinations to home care workers as well…. Catholic Health Australia has estimated that about 150,000 workers go into the community and provide care for about 1 million vulnerable and elderly people in their homes.”

Inside Ageing reports: “A week after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that all aged care workers must have at least one COVID-19 vaccine by September, it remains unclear whether the new requirements will extend to employees in cleaning, catering, maintenance, administration and other roles that interact with residents. It is also unknown if the mandate will extend to employees providing home care services.”

Aged Care Worker Vaccination Roll-Out

The Age reports that as of 26 June, only 33.6% of residential aged care staff had received their first immunisation. “Of 263,000 workers, just over 88,000 had received their first shot and about 43,000 had received a second dose.” Monash University Health Law and Aged Professor Joseph Ibrahim said: “It’s an astonishingly low number vaccinated. It’s difficult to understand given staff were in the priority group, and we are in the middle of winter, which is the most dangerous time.”

The Australian Government holds responsibility for the country’s aged care system. Australian COVID-19 vaccination rates currently rank very low on world-wide comparisons, currently just over 7% fully vaccinated, last in the OECD.

Aged Care Students

CCA’s CEO, Dr Don Perlgut comments: “The recent Commonwealth Government Budget announced a welcome 33,800 new aged care training places. What the Government has not mentioned is the importance of vaccinating aged care students and trainees, all of whom must participate in work placements to become skilled workers. It appears inevitable that they will eventually be included in mandatory vaccination programs, so any confusion needs to be dispelled immediately.”

“As we outlined in last week’s National ACE Summit, Australia’s not-for-profit adult and community education (ACE) providers play a major role in national aged care worker training. The Certificate III Individual Support is the most popular qualification offered by ACE providers; a massive 23% of aged care students in New South Wales and 19% of students in Victoria enroll with an ACE provider,” Dr Perlgut said.

“The aged care workforce has become an important national and community issue. I am pleased that Australia’s ACE providers are in an important position to help,” said Dr Perlgut.

(image below: front cover of the North Shore Times, Sydney, 24 June 2021)

Community Colleges Australia Supports a National Vaccination Awareness Campaign

Last month, Community Colleges Australia announced its support for a national COVID-19 vaccination awareness campaign, to support the efforts of Chief Medical Officers of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. The statement notes that, “vaccination is one of Australia’s top national priorities, to ensure the health and future prosperity of the nation,” and that, “historically, vulnerable and disadvantaged groups … are frequently among the least-vaccinated Australians, due to lack of access, information and opportunity.”

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