The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is significantly behind schedule, and aged care managers, GPs and pharmacists are asking when will they receive the doses they need to deliver the vaccinations needed in their communities?
This morning Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed that as of April 5th, 854,983 COVID-19 vaccinations had been administered across Australia. Of those, 280,943 doses had been administered through GP clinics, respiratory clinics and other federal agencies.
More than 112,000 vaccines have been delivered in aged care and disability facilities, he said.
According to the Department of Health website, only one-third of all aged care homes (925) have been visited for their first vaccine dose, and 13% (345) for the second dose, as of April 4th.
A quick poll on HelloCare’s Aged Care Worker Support Group, where all members are aged care workers, showed that 85% of respondents have not been vaccinated. Only 8% had received their first dose, and a mere 6% were fully vaccinated.
Considering that historically aged care workers have been significant vectors of COVID-19, the low vaccination rates in this cohort is both surprising and alarming.
Because COVID-19 can be present without symptoms, aged care workers have been known to unwittingly transmit COVID-19 from within the community into aged care homes, and even from one aged care home to another when they work multiple jobs in the sector.
Whiddon Aged Care CEO Chris Mamarelis told ABC Radio National this morning, “As an aged care provider in this sector for a long time, it’s sad, but you get used to being second best.”
Mamarelis said even as CEO of the company he is not able to answer their questions.
Whiddon is a not-for-profit provider with 23 aged care homes and 1,800 residents. It employs thousands of staff.
Only six of Whiddon’s homes have received vaccination visits and only 800 residents have been vaccinated. Of those residents, one-third have not received their second vaccine dose.
Of Whiddon’s remaining 17 homes, four have a scheduled vaccination visit, but the rest – more than half of Whiddon’s homes and home to more than 1,000 residents – remain “in the dark” and “waiting for clarity”, Mamarelis confirmed.
Mamarelis would like to see politicians and bureaucrats come out and visit aged care homes “to see what’s going on”.
“I think they need to get out there and have a look and talk to the people on the ground, and see the impact they’re having with these delays and the uncertainty they’re casting over the whole sector.”
“It’s not good enough,” Mamarelis said.
Flu vaccinations are having to be delayed in aged care homes because priority is being given to the COVID-19 vaccination.
Independent aged care staff are also having difficulty being vaccinated. Self-employed doctor Lisa Rogers, who works in three aged care homes, told The Sydney Morning Herald she received her first jab about a month ago, but hasn’t been able to get her second injection.
Private contractors administering the vaccine in aged care homes are using leftover doses to immunise healthcare workers to avoid wasting the limited vaccine supplies.
Aspen Medical told The Sydney Morning Herald some healthcare workers who were vaccinated at aged care facilities “did not have their first vaccination recorded accurately on the Australian Immunisation Register”. Aspen apologised for the “inconvenience caused”.
Dr Rogers said the rollout has “been terrible”.
Time is critical for receiving the second dose, with the US Center’s of Disease Control and Prevention stating people need to have their second dose after 21 days, but up to 42 days after the first jab if a delay is unavoidable.
GP Todd Cameron told 9News a box of 90 COVID-19 vaccines has been delivered to his private clinic in inner Melbourne, but 7,000 require the vaccine, leaving him unable to help many.
“It’s really, really frustrating,” Dr Cameron said. “We just feel like we have been thrown under the bus.”
Pharmacists are also facing vaccination delays. Initially due to come on board for the rollout in May, when people aged 50 and over become eligible for the vaccine, that has been pushed back to June for pharmacists.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd says the government is still considering the option of mass vaccination sites, and today NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced a mass vaccination hub will be opened in Sydney’s western suburbs.
The government has blamed missing its stated target of administering 4 million vaccinations by the end of March on a “supply problem”.
“There were over three million doses from overseas that never came,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
But the Shadow Minister for Health said the government is telling a “lie about the impact of the EU” blocking doses coming to Australia.