Morrison government accused of ‘despicable’ bid to shift vaccine blame onto aged care workers | Aged care (Australia)

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The not-for-profit aged care sector and staff unions have accused the federal government of a “despicable” attempt to shift blame for its botched vaccine rollout onto aged care staff, while warning it is “now critical” that workers be given priority access to the jab.

The federal government is continuing to face sustained pressure over its slow, confused vaccine rollout for aged care workers, who were supposed to be fully vaccinated within six weeks of the rollout’s commencement on 22 February.

The aged care minister, Richard Colbeck, on Tuesday struggled to give any firm vaccination rate data but insisted he was comfortable with the speed of the rollout in the sector.

Incomplete data later provided by his department suggested about 32,833 workers had been fully vaccinated by in-reach teams visiting aged care facilities since 22 February.

‘When will you know?’: Richard Colbeck can't say how many aged care workers are vaccinated – video
‘When will you know?’: Richard Colbeck can’t say how many aged care workers are vaccinated – video

Another 1,887 staff had been vaccinated through the commonwealth’s dedicated staff pop-up vaccination hubs, and more would have been vaccinated through general practitioners and state-run hubs.

There are roughly 300,000 Australians working in the aged care sector.

The Victorian government on Tuesday announced a five-day blitz to give aged care workers in its state priority access to the vaccine.

The federal government, meanwhile, said it had asked its expert medical panel to consider whether vaccines should be made mandatory for aged care workers.

That infuriated the sector, which viewed it as an attempt to blame staff intransigence for the outcomes, rather than the government’s failures to make the vaccine available.

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The peak body for the not-for-profit sector, Aged & Community Services Association, said it was now critical for staff to be given priority vaccine access.

“Logistical issues have made the vaccine rollout for the aged care residents and workforce in Victoria slow and inconsistent,” the ACSA chair, Sara Blunt, said. “It’s now critical that the government ensures aged care workers are prioritised for vaccinations to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of residents, who are among one of the most vulnerable groups in our community.”

ACSA also accused the government of “blaming providers or workers when the rollout is its responsibility”.

Blunt said the lack of vaccine availability at aged care facilities for staff was the main factor driving the poor vaccination rates.

“The main issue right now is not whether the vaccine is mandatory, it’s whether workers can get easy access,” she said.

“The government has to stop blaming providers or workers when the rollout is its responsibility. Our workers are amongst the hardest working yet poorly paid in the care and service industries and the fewer barriers we put in front of them to get a vaccine the better.”

The United Workers Union, which represents aged care workers in South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia and Northern Territory, said the attempt to shift blame to workers was “nothing short of despicable”.

“It is disgraceful that aged care workers are being dragged into an argument about whether vaccinations should be made mandatory,” the UWU aged care director, Carolyn Smith, said.

“The truth of the matter is aged care workers have been left out of the vaccination program altogether – they simply have not had the option of getting the vaccine at all.”

The federal government’s vaccination of aged care workers has been the subject of complaints for several months.

It initially relied on four private contractors to deliver in-reach teams to aged care facilities to vaccinate workers. Those teams were to be sent in separately to in-reach teams for residents, but never materialised. Staff were instead given leftover Pfizer vaccinations, spare after resident vaccinations.

The government promised to set up pop-up vaccination hubs for workers, but missed its own deadline for delivery, before making a new pledge to set up 13 such clinics during May. Only three have been established, and they are all in Sydney.

The government is now telling workers to get vaccines wherever they can, including from general practitioners, state-run clinics, or via the Sydney hubs and in-reach teams.

The sector says the shifting plans have caused significant confusion.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Morrison government accused of ‘despicable’ bid to shift vaccine blame onto aged care workers | Aged care (Australia)

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