Earlier this month, it became compulsory for aged care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Aged care workers who refuse to have had at least their first dose of the vaccine by September 17 will no longer be able to work in an aged care home.
The National Cabinet made the call after considering the matter three times, and has provided funding for aged care workers to take time off work to receive the jab.
One of the government’s biggest concerns making the decision is the high rates of vaccine hesitancy in the aged care community, which could result in large numbers of aged care workers leaving the sector, at a time when there are serious problems attracting and retaining staff already, and also an urgent need for a larger workforce in the future.
Many have applauded the call to make the vaccine compulsory, but many are concerned, including, significantly, the aged care workers themselves. It’s still largely up to the aged care employees to organise their shots, although some employers are orchestrating on-site vaccinations and other ways to ensure their staff can access the jab.
Here at HelloCare we can see from comments on our social media sites and our Aged Care Worker Support Group that, while most aged care workers are comfortable with receiving the vaccine, and indeed many are already vaccinated, we are also seeing strong opposition to it and the call to make it mandatory.
As of last week, only 43% of the aged care workforce had received their first vaccine dose, and this is a group that was supposed to be included in Phase 1a of the government’s rollout plan.
HelloCare is fortunate to have a unique perspective on the aged care workforce, and we believe it’s important to share the concerns being communicated on our pages, especially for a matter so significant to aged care residents as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Below we share the fears and concerns HelloCare readers and members of the Aged Care Worker Support Group have expressed on our pages about the vaccine. We are using quotes with the author’s permission, but have chosen not to include their names to protect their identities.
Amongst our readers, many believe the vaccine is still a trial.
“The hard thing is that it is still in a trial,” wrote one member of the Aged Care Worker Support Group.
“I love my job but I won’t put my own health at risk for an experimental vaccine!”
“Do your research,” urged other HelloCare readers, unconvinced by some of the world’s finest scientists who have seen the vaccine through the most stringent approval processes in the world, and data showing the overwhelming safety of the vaccine now it has been taken by millions and observed and monitored closely.
“Vaccine development is a long, complex process. It typically involves several phases and takes approximately 10 to 15 years to test and trial before it’s safe for distribution. I have a lot of concerns with a vaccine that was developed and introduced in under a year,” one aged care worker wrote.
There are conspiracy theorists who claim adverse events are being hidden from the public because they are out of step with the government’s “narrative”.
There have been numerous assertions that no-one has died in Australia from COVID-19, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
“Nobody in Australia has died of COVID – a health official admitted that in an interview recently,” one person wrote.
And there’s a lot of confusion about how the vaccine works, for example, many are confused by the fact you can still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated.
“I have an issue with … our livelihoods being taken away from us due to refusal of having a vaccine that has been proven not even effective from contracting and transmitting the virus,” wrote one member of HelloCare’s Aged Care Worker Support Group
If you can still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated, “Why should I run the risk of potentially having a serious health side effect, death being one of them?” asked another.
“Making staff risk their health with an experimental vaccine when residents can choose whether to have it done or not? Where’s the logic in any of this?” one puzzled aged care worker wrote.
And there were questions about the effectiveness of vaccines in general.
“Flu shot doesn’t work … you know that,” one member of the Aged Care Worker Support Group wrote.
Many also objected to the fact the vaccine is mandatory and questioned the legitimacy of the forthcoming requirement.
“It’s our constitutional right to refuse without being bullied into it. I refuse to have it,” said another.
“I have an issue with our human rights and freedom of choice being disregarded.”
Some predicted there will be an exodus of aged care workers from the sector, and that residents will suffer in already short-staffed homes.
“On any given day/night we can’t even get agency [staff] to cover for two or three sick staff. Let’s see what happens now that there’ll be dozens of experienced workers walking away looking for other employment. Who do you think is going to bear the brunt of it at the end of the day?”
While some of the reader comments on HelloCare’s social pages contain misinformation, the confusion is not entirely surprising. The messaging from the government has been unclear at times, and there is a lot of misinformation circulating in the community and on social media.
Australia is in need of clear and concise information regarding the vaccination campaign, and aged care workers need greater support to receive the jab. Perhaps then we will see higher vaccination rates. Now the Delta variant is circulating in our community, there is even greater urgency to get this important workforce vaccinated.
Most aged care workers are stepping up and getting vaccinated, despite any reservations they might have and the difficulties they might experience in doing so. One writer summed up the less-than-ideal situation perfectly.