Aged care Covid vaccination rules welcomed by sector

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants all aged care staff to have received at least one dose of the vaccine by mid-September. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants all aged care staff to have received at least one dose of the vaccine by mid-September. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

The aged care sector has broadly welcomed news that vaccinations will soon be compulsory for staff, but unions and providers are maintaining that the Morrison government's bungled rollout - and not hesitancy among workers - is to blame for the low take-up so far.

Staff at aged care homes will soon need to be vaccinated as a condition of their employment after national cabinet finally agreed to the new rules on Monday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants all staff to have at least one dose by mid-September.

A new $11 million fund has been set up to help ensure casual workers aren't left out of pocket. Casual staff will receive $80 to compensate for time spent off work getting the jab, and will be eligible for one day's paid leave worth $185 if they fall ill with side effects.

However, the paid leave will only be available for up to a quarter of a provider's casual staff.

The new vaccine requirement doesn't apply for home care workers.

Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates, who has among the most vocal advocates for mandating vaccinations, welcomed the belated move.

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"I'm pleased that there has been agreement because we need to do everything that we possibly can to decrease the risk to the most vulnerable members of the population," Mr Yates said.

Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Patricia Sparrow also praised the decision, but said any suggestions that it would help put the rollout back on track would amount to "blame-shifting".

"The reason there is low rates of vaccination has little to do with our workers," she said.

"The best way to improve vaccination rates is to make it as easy as possible for aged care workers, including through on-site workplace vaccination.

"Our workers were given priority as 1a and 1b at the beginning of the year, yet they are still waiting to be vaccinated. It's not their fault.

"We simply have not seen the level of urgency, planning or clear communication needed from the federal government and this must be corrected urgently."

The United Workers Union's Lyndal Ryan said the low vaccination rates were a "failure of this government", not of the willingness of workers to be inoculated.

"The government has failed to do what they need to do, there hasn't been adequate information and supply [of doses]. Now they have given workers two months [to get a vaccine] - It's a bit of a scapegoating."

Mr Morrison has indicated that national cabinet would on Friday consider advice on whether to also mandate vaccinations for disability care workers.

A recent study from the Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health revealed the high rates of vaccine hesitancy in the disability workforce, with almost one in five respondents saying that they would avoid the jab.

One of the study's authors, Professor Anne Kavanagh, said she didn't support compulsory vaccinations at this stage.

Professor Kavanagh, a member of the panel advising the government on its response to the pandemic for people with a disability, said it needed to be made easier for staff to be vaccinated. This should include scheduling more on-site vaccinations at workplaces.

Professor Kavanagh said it was "absolutely essential" that staff in disability care had access to financial support to allow them to take time off to get vaccinated.

Describing the government's communications strategy as "pretty terrible all round", she also suggested the government recruit well-known identities in the disability and aged care sectors to help spruik the benefits of vaccination.

This story Low vaccination rates not on workers, says aged care sector first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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