Dec 19, 2023

Have older Aussies given up on COVID-safe measures this holiday season?

As of December 1, an average of 165 Australians a day were admitted to hospital with COVID-19 and 57 people were in Intensive Care Units with COVID-19 complications. [Source: Shutterstock]

New research has found most older people do not believe practising COVID-safe behaviours or staying up to date with vaccinations to protect against COVID-19 is important as we head into a highly social time of the year.

The country, NSW in particular, is facing its third consecutive summer COVID outbreak and experts are urging people to bring back mask-wearing, hand sanitiser-use and to avoid social gatherings if they are unwell – particularly for older or immunosuppressed people.

The COVID Community Sentiment Index, a quantitative research survey regularly commissioned by Pfizer Australia – a COVID vaccine manufacturer – canvassed Australians’ views on COVID-19 which showed that:

  • 57% of older Australians do not think that new COVID-19 variants will have a significant impact on them one year from now
  • 31% of older Australians think that vaccinations will not be important for protection against COVID-19 one year from now
  • 33% of Australians do not think COVID-19 safe measures, such as wearing masks, hand sanitisation and social distancing are important for protection against the disease

Federal Government data shows that as of December 1, an average of 165 Australians a day were admitted to hospital with COVID-19 and 57 people were in Intensive Care Units (ICU) with COVID-19 complications.

A recent report also found that 2.5 million people aged 65 years or older were not up to date with their six-monthly COVID-19 vaccine dose, two million more than in 2022. It was also reported three-quarters of Australians aged 75 years or older had not received a COVID-19 vaccination in the six months leading up to November 2023.

As cases rise again, care facilities are amping up their infection control practices and encouraging those visiting loved ones over the holidays to do a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) before entering and to consider wearing a mask while on-site to avoid a facility lockdown.

ABC Radio reported that five aged care facilities in Tasmania are currently experiencing outbreaks. Last month, an Alice Springs aged care facility responded to a COVID-19 outbreak that impacted more than a third of its residents.

Some public hospitals around the country have also implemented mask mandates. A surge in COVID-19 cases prompted the West Australian Government to reintroduce face mask rules at Perth public hospitals last month, while public hospitals in the north of Adelaide also brought back the rule.

“Vaccination remains a critical tool in reducing transmission and minimising the severity of COVID-19 infections. It is essential for protecting the health and well-being of  residents, especially given the vulnerability of people living in our aged care homes,” said the Director of Seniors Services at Uniting NSW.ACT, Saviour Buhagia. 

“We adapt the preventative measures implemented in each home based on own risk assessment and guidance from health authorities. Our approach is focussed on maintaining as safe an environment as possible for residents and staff, whilst recognising that our services are people’s homes.” 

Professor Robert Booy, an Infectious Diseases Specialist at the University of Sydney, is urging Australians to resist complacency ahead of the holiday season. 

He said, “With COVID-19 part of our new reality, we need to continue to embed some habits and measures to protect ourselves and our communities.”

“With many people travelling and gathering to celebrate the holiday season, it’s important to remember that COVID loves a crowd. Even though most healthy Australians are protected against severe COVID, there remain a few million vulnerable people who have not had an updated COVID-19 vaccination in the last six months. Taking precautions this Christmas is only sensible.”

In October, The Federal Government announced it would provide $318 million to continue COVID-19 support for residential aged care homes.

From January 1, 2024, a new Aged Care Outbreak Management Supplement will provide support for another 12 months, replacing the current COVID-19 grants.

The supplement will help all residential aged care providers manage outbreaks and a surge workforce will continue to assist aged care homes impacted by outbreaks.

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