Victoria final State to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for aged care workers ahead of 17 September deadline – plus DoH advises providers on unvaccinated staff

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Victoria on Wednesday became the final State to mandate that all aged care workers, part and full-time, may only enter a facility from 17 September – next Friday – if they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he was confident high rates of aged care workers would be inoculated by the September 17 deadline.

“What we’ve been seeing is between 11,000 and 20,000 vaccinations a week, it did, sadly, require the mandating, but that has had the effect. And we have an outreach program now. We have an in reach program now, so we’re seeing very high rates. We’re expecting that that will continue,” he said.

Latest figures from aged care providers, supplied by the Federal Government, show that on 7 September, 88.6% of all staff (239,368) have had one dose of vaccine, and 67.9% (183,317) have had two doses. This means that another 14,099 workers received their first dose in the past six days.

Workers need to provide evidence for exemption before 17 September

The Department of Health advised providers yesterday afternoon that its workers should provide evidence to them of their COVID-19 vaccination, or authorised exemption to a vaccination, before 17 September.

“Providers should also keep a record of workers’ vaccination status, in line with the direction set out in the relevant state or territory public health order,” they said.

For workers unable to produce an Immunisation History Statement because they were only vaccinated in the days leading up to the deadline and it hasn’t been uploaded to the Immunisation Register, providers are advised to email the Department so they can follow up immediately with the vaccine provider.

“You will need to provide the individual’s full name, Medicare number and date of vaccination at your facility,” said the Department.

“If a worker was vaccinated at an alternate site, such as a GP or state and territory run clinic, providers should assist their workers in contacting the vaccine provider and requesting the vaccination record be uploaded to their Immunisation History Statement.”

If a worker cannot get vaccinated before deadline

The Department says State and Territory Public Health Orders should provide direction on whether or not the worker will qualify for a temporary exemption due to an inability to access a COVID-19 vaccine before the deadline.

“Any exemption will need to be provided by your State or Territory’s health authority. The worker may be required to provide evidence before 17 September of an appointment to get vaccinated,” they said.

“All residential aged workers currently have priority access to receive a Pfizer vaccination across all available channels. This includes on-site clinics, dedicated hubs in your community, primary care clinics and state and territory run clinics.

“Workers are encouraged to seek the support of their employer to receive their vaccine now. All providers must support their workers to access a COVID 19 vaccine.

“Providers are requested to contact their local Primary Health Network as quickly as possible if you need help in assisting your workers to access a vaccine appointment.”

Exemptions to mandatory vaccination

Temporary exemptions can be applied for in a “very narrow set of circumstances” – namely, if an aged care worker can demonstrate every effort to access a vaccination by 17 September but is unable to due to supply or access limitations.

“This will be a matter for individual states and territories, including determining the process for applying for and approving exemptions based on the relevant processes and decision-making bodies in each jurisdiction. We will publish more information on the Department’s website as it becomes available.

“In these cases, the Commonwealth should be made aware of the application of these exemptions and will utilise existing channels to ensure vaccination as quickly as possible. Once this occurs, the exemption should be revoked.”

None of the public health directions released to date have allowed exemptions on religious, political or personal grounds.

The Department warns that while individuals are personally responsible for complying with the mandatory COVID 19 vaccination requirements, providers must also take reasonable steps to ensure non-compliant workers do not enter and remain at their facility.

Estimates from the UK suggest 7% of its residential care workforce – 40,000 workers out of around 570,000 working in care homes – will be excluded by its mandate.

Will we see similar numbers here?