Two-thirds of residents in aged care are not fully protected against COVID-19, putting them at risk during the unpredictable flu season and the ongoing Omicron surge as winter approaches.
According to the latest data from the Department of Health, only 59,118 aged care residents have received a vaccine dose or been infected with COVID-19 in the past six months.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends people over 65 receive the 2023 booster dose if their last COVID-19 vaccine or confirmed infection was six months ago or longer.
But the Department of Health and Aged Care stopped reporting coverage rates for aged care residents at the end of March, which made it difficult to judge how vaccination rates are tracking in aged care.
Julie Leask, a public health expert from the University of Sydney, expressed her concern over the large proportion of people in the highest-risk category for severe COVID who are underprotected heading into winter.
“I think it reflects the fact that there’s a lot of vaccine fatigue out there, and very likely in aged care facilities as well,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“People are wanting to move on from COVID, but we can’t move on from the importance of having boosters for those who really need them.”
A Federal Government spokesperson said Health Minister Mark Butler and Aged Care Minister Anika Wells had urged aged care providers in February to start planning the booster roll-out before June. However, of those who are eligible to receive a booster, just 13.9% of Australians in aged care have done so in 2023.
The Federal Government said aged care providers were required to report all cases of COVID-19 in residents and workers, and the government was monitoring this data closely. However, Ms Leask believes more needs to be done to ensure the safety of aged care residents heading into winter.
The influenza vaccine is available through General Practitioners (GPs) or local pharmacies and chemists.
It is free under the National Immunisation Program for people aged 65 or over, and those with certain medical conditions. Otherwise, the vaccine can cost between $20 and $30 at a pharmacy.