Government asks health experts for advice on mandatory vaccination for aged care workers

Originally published on theconversation.com

National cabinet on Friday is expected to consider whether COVID vaccinations should be made mandatory for workers in aged care.

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Monday said Scott Morrison and he had asked the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) to reconsider the matter.

The AHPPC looked at the question early in the year and did not advise compulsion for medical reasons.

While there would be considerable support in principle, compulsion could raise more complex issues in practice, such as creating staff shortages if some workers refused to take the jab.

The review comes as the Victorian COVID outbreak has affected two nursing homes in Melbourne and once again exposed weaknesses in the Commonwealth-controlled sector.

Two aged care workers from Arcare in Maidstone have tested positive, as well as the son of one of them. One worker had received a first vaccine, while the other was not vaccinated.

One of the carers was also working at BlueCross Western Gardens in Sunshine.

One Arcare resident has been infected – a 99-year-old woman who has been moved out of the facility. The woman had received one vaccination shot.

All facilities in Victoria have now received their vaccinations, but most residents only have had the first dose.

The arrangements for aged care workers are haphazard. If they were present when the nursing home was being done, and there were vaccines left over, they could get their jabs. Otherwise they have needed to access them from their doctor or the vaccination centres.

The federal government is also under criticism for failing to ban carers from working in more than one facility.

It has now reactivated its program to subsidise workers to keep them to one facility, but this is not compulsory.

The subsidy program is turned on and off according to when there are COVID cases in the community. Providers in hotspots become eligible for the subsidy. It has been activated four times in Victoria, most recently last Thursday.

Hunt said that in the greater Melbourne region only about 4.7% of staff had worked across different sites.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said it was a risk to have carers working across sites.

The state government confines workers to single sites in the very small number of nursing homes it controls.

Acting Premier James Merlino told reporters that working across sites “is not happening in the public system, and as for [Commonwealth-controlled] private aged care, you should raise those questions with the federal government”.

Sutton said of the fight against the Victorian outbreak generally, “we are neck and neck with this virus and it is an absolute beast”. Merlino warned things could get worse before they got better.

There are now more than 50 active cases in Victoria.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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