Just three of 13 promised vaccine hubs for Australia’s young aged care workers have opened | Aged care (Australia)

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The federal government has established just three Pfizer pop-up Covid-19 vaccination hubs for younger aged care workers, all of which are in Sydney, almost two months after they were supposed to begin operating.

A major complaint about the vaccine rollout has been the slow and confused process for aged care workers, who were slated to be vaccinated as part of phase 1a, the highest priority stage of the rollout.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation described health and aged care workers as “the most important group for prioritisation … because they are doing work of critical importance and societal benefit”.

Yet, by the end of April, the government’s incomplete data on aged and disability care workers showed only about 37,000 of 250,000 had been vaccinated. That number has since increased to 60,914, though it is likely larger, due to deficiencies in data collection.

After initially promising to vaccinate aged care workers using dedicated in-reach teams, the government has switched to using a combination of in-reach, general practitioners, and dedicated pop-up Pfizer vaccination hubs, which were supposed to begin coming online in early April.

Roughly a month-and-a-half later, the government has set up three pop-up hubs, run by its contractor Sonic Healthcare.

The health department had previously suggested it would set up 13 pop-up hubs “during May”.

All three are in Sydney and two are in western Sydney, a region already well served by the Homebush state-run mass vaccination hub, which also administers the Pfizer vaccine and has the capacity to give 30,000 doses of both vaccines per week.

The union that represents aged care workers in Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory says the government’s failure to vaccinate its members is “shocking”.

United Workers Union’s aged care director, Carolyn Smith, said the lack of pop-up hubs reflected a broader failure in the government’s vaccination of aged care workers. She said the fear of the virus had posed a “a really heavy emotional burden for our members” since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Aged care workers have been absolutely on the frontline of the threat of Covid. I think hotel quarantine workers first, but when you look at workers impacted by Covid, it’s aged care workers around Australia,” Smith said.

“We saw it in Victoria with the big Covid outbreak, aged care workers were really incredibly impacted by Covid and are also a source of transmission into aged care, where the people most vulnerable to Covid are living.

“Members have said to us ‘I worry every day’… ‘I’m worried that I’m taking Covid in … and I worry that I’m then taking it home with me to my family’.”

Late last month, the federal government released a new plan to vaccinate aged care workers, giving Pfizer to those aged under 50 and AstraZeneca to the rest.

The vaccines were to be delivered through four pathways, including GPs, respiratory clinics, and Aboriginal health services, which only have the AstraZeneca.

Workers were also told they could go to state government-run clinics, which are supposed to have both Pfizer and AstraZeneca and would be able to vaccinate both age groups.

Other workers could get the Pfizer jab either from in-reach teams or via the pop-up hubs.

The health department’s latest advice on the pop-up hubs is that it will “contact facilities in other parts of the country as more clinics open”.

The department was approached for a response.

The health department deputy secretary, Caroline Edwards, told a Senate inquiry last month that the pop-up hubs had been located in areas with a lot of “traffic”.

“Disability and aged-care workers can go to the pop-ups that will be located in areas where there has been an assessment that there’s a lot of through traffic from people who live, travel through and work in aged care or disability care,” she said.

Edwards said the government would progressively open up more clinics, until there were about 13.

“In addition, on 3 May we’ll be opening the first of our pop-up clinics. That will be in Blacktown in New South Wales, and we’ll be moving forward with the progressive opening of those clinics to a maximum of 13, each of which will be able to do at least 500 vaccinations a week, focusing on aged care and disability workers,” she said at the time.

When asked when the rest of the clinics would be open, she responded: “During May is my understanding.”

She also explained that the data the government held was incomplete and did not reflect workers who had been vaccinated in GP clinics.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Just three of 13 promised vaccine hubs for Australia’s young aged care workers have opened | Aged care (Australia)

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