‘Incompetence’: Shockingly low numbers of vaccinations in aged care, disability care

Richard Colbeck has admitted the government doesn't know how many aged-care staff and residents are still unvaccinated. <i>Photo: TND</i>

Richard Colbeck has admitted the government doesn't know how many aged-care staff and residents are still unvaccinated. Photo: TND

The federal government has admitted it still doesn’t know how many vaccines it still has to deliver to Australians in aged care – despite it being one of the most at-risk settings in the country.

Now 100 days into the vaccine rollout, and on the first day of the winter danger period, the federal government can only confirm that 9 per cent of the nation’s aged-care staff and 15 per cent of those in disability care have been inoculated.

“This has been a rolling maul of incompetence,” Labor leader Anthony Albanese said on Tuesday, accusing the government of “complacency and arrogance”.

“Australians aren’t comfortable with this government leaving behind the older Australians who built our nation.”

An extraordinary day in Parliament heard multiple concerning updates on the vaccination progress.

Of 22,200 NDIS participants living in disability care, the health department said just 3500 had received one dose, with a minuscule 355 people getting two doses.

In aged-care residents in Victoria – the heart of Australia’s latest COVID outbreak – 44,333 people had been given a first dose, including 25,000 who had received a second dose.

That means about 57 per cent of residents have been fully vaccinated.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has confidently talked up the fact that all aged-care facilities in Victoria have now been offered at least one dose.

Residents and staff in aged and disability care are classed in the highest-risk, top priority Phase 1a of the vaccine rollout, which Mr Hunt initially hoped would be fully vaccinated by April, within six weeks of the rollout beginning.

But on the first day of June, more than 14 weeks into the rollout, Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck and other government health department officials admitted that not only were potentially tens of thousands of disability and aged-care residents and staff still awaiting vaccinations, but the federal government still didn’t have access to the data on who had or hadn’t been jabbed yet.

“I’m not going to give you a number that I’m not certain,” Senator Colbeck told ABC’s Radio National on Tuesday morning, when asked how many aged-care staff had been vaccinated.

“We’ve had to reset this whole program because of the health advice we’ve received … But at this point in time it’s not complete enough for us to be able to provide [the data].”

Department data, provided to estimates, showed 39,874 staff in aged care had received at least one jab, as of May 30.

Another 1887 workers have been vaccinated at ‘pop-up clinics’ for workers.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation told The New Daily that federal government data from 2016 – the most recent available – estimated there were least 366,000 workers in residential aged care in Australia.

That means the 32,833 fully vaccinated workers represent just 8.9 per cent of the sector.

Aged care workers wait for vaccine

Across the country, aged-care staff are still waiting for COVID jabs. Photo: Getty

Senator Colbeck said the figures on staff is only the minimum number, representing those vaccinated through special ‘in-reach’ visits to care facilities, and is likely much higher when taking into account those who got their jabs at GPs or clinics, but admitted his government is still scrambling to get crucial data.

“Everybody would have liked to have done it faster. But logistically, we’ve done it as quickly as we possibly could,” he said.

In most cases, aged-care workers have been told to source their own vaccinations from GPs or mass vaccine clinics.

The problem is, those are state-run facilities, and the Commonwealth doesn’t have access to that data yet – meaning, the federal government is only getting vaccine data on the minority of aged-care workers.

Senator Colbeck said the government would soon pass legislation making it compulsory for homes to collect and provide the figures.

“The staff have a number of channels to receive the vaccine, and it is quite reasonably the aged-care providers who hold that data, so we’ve asked them to provide it,” Senator Colbeck said.

Mr Albanese was livid at the revelations.

“It just shows how diabolical it is that the government is not even keeping records about these matters,” he said at a Parliament House press conference.

“These are essential workers. These are heroes of the pandemic … These people deserve our respect. They deserve our support. And what they’ve had from this government is abandonment.”

The Labor leader slammed the government for not directly doing more to ensure staff were vaccinated, instead of asking them to join the queue with the general public at clinics or GPs.

“How the government could not put in place a system of making sure that aged-care workers received the vaccine is beyond me,” Mr Albanese said.

Australia recorded another 119,139 vaccinations on Monday, taking the nation’s total to 4.362 million doses.

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