Nearly half of aged care workers plan on getting the COVID-19 vaccine according to a poll run by HelloCare this week.
The other forty-seven per cent of aged care workers said either “no” they wouldn’t (28%) or that they were still “unsure” (19.7%) about their intentions to get the vaccination.
Three per cent said they would get the vaccine after “more research” was done.
The HelloCare poll received nearly 400 responses over a few days. In comparison to another similar poll, asking the question, this time across a broader cross-section of the public highlighted 80% were planning on getting the vaccine.
Aged care workers have a moral responsibility to be vaccinated, said epidemiologist Mary Louise McLaws. If they decide not to, they have no place working in aged care, she said.
“They have a moral obligation to keep the most vulnerable in our population from dying and getting sick.”
“Do not go anywhere near-elderly, pregnant women, or anyone between 20 and 39 years of age because they represent up to 50% of our cases.”
“Do not go to work. Find another job,” McLaws.
Infectious diseases expert, Robert Booy, told HelloCare it was “really unacceptable and must be prevented” for aged care workers to go around nursing homes and pass around infection from one resident to another.
“Aged care workers are potential vectors of transmission,” he said.
“I believe that if a large portion [of aged care workers] were to say ‘no’ the government would require them to find another job,” he told HelloCare.
LASA CEO Sean Rooney told HelloCare the “national priority… must be” to do “all we can” to protect older Australians in care and the staff who look after them, from COVID-19.
The vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective, so aged care workers have little reason not to take it. Vaccination is not only in the best interests of their clients or aged care residents but also in their own best interests.
More than 100 million doses have been administered, all over the world.
“[Aged care workers] should understand the vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective.
“They can benefit themselves greatly from being vaccinated, quite apart from the benefit that will happen for their contacts, for their clients, for their residents in aged care facilities,” said Booys.
Aged care workers are “important” members of society and “critical” to the care of older people who can’t care for themselves, he said.
The median age of staff working in residential aged care is 48 years, and 50 years in home care. This older demographic means they are at high risk of complications from COVID-19 themselves.
McLaws also warned of the dangers of becoming a ‘long hauler’, where the effects of the COVID-19 drag on for weeks and months, and the long-term consequences still remain unclear.
“If I had an elderly relative and [vaccination] was a choice, I’d be taking them out of aged care, because there is the risk of death,” said McLaws.
Absolutely, said McLaws, vaccination “should be made compulsory. If they want to work in aged care it has to be compulsory,” she said.
“How can this be a choice when working with the most vulnerable?” she asked.
However, McLaws believes people should be given the choice of which vaccine they receive, which in Australian means choosing between the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines.
Booy said flu immunisations are compulsory for aged care workers and “COVID-19 should head that way too”.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee is strongly encouraging and facilitating the uptake of COVID-19 vaccination by the aged care workforce, and has “left on the table” the matter of the vaccine being compulsory for aged care workers, Rooney said.
The AHPPC continues to review information as it comes to light, and its advice to the government will be guided by the data.
“The option of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations in aged care should remain a consideration,” said Rooney.
McLaws is pleading with aged care workers to get the vaccine.
“I say to them, think bigger than themselves. Think bigger than your family. Think bigger than your community. Think of the elderly people and the fact that their families may lose their loved one too soon because somebody who worked with them, who is trusted by them, brings in a deadly disease.”
Booy is optimistic common sense will prevail.
He doesn’t believe the proportion of aged care workers indicated in HelloCare’s survey will refuse the vaccine.
“I think once people are offered the vaccine, the majority will say ‘yes please’,” Booy said.
Let’s hope he’s right.