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Six weeks before deadline, Australian government has no plan for enforcing aged care worker vaccinations

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

The public health orders needed to enforce the vaccine mandate on aged care workers in Australia have still not been made and no risk assessment on the potential disruption to care has been completed, more than a month after the prime minister Scott Morrison announced the policy.

The government’s vaccination of aged care workers has been plagued by delays, failures and confusion, despite the workforce being included in the highest priority phase of the rollout.

Last week, Guardian Australia revealed that just one in four aged care workers were fully vaccinated while 43% had received their first dose.

Related: Five weeks into the greater Sydney lockdown, the rules are eye-glazingly complicated | Anne Davies

In a bid to boost vaccination rates, Morrison announced in June that workers would be required to have a first dose by mid-September or face exclusion from the sector.

But the public health orders required to legally enforce that mandate have still not been prepared. The states and territories are still in the process of drafting public health orders which would give effect to it, according to the commonwealth health department.

The department said “most” state and territories are preparing public health orders.

“The Department of Health is aware that most states and territories are preparing public health orders to give effect to the national cabinet decision,” the department said in a statement. “This work is under way and will be finalised in due courses.

“In Victoria, a decision on mandating Covid-19 vaccinations for aged care workers rests with the chief health officer.”

Guardian Australia also understands that the government is still to complete a risk assessment to determine the impacts of the decision on continuity of care for aged care residents.

A significant loss of workforce, should vaccination rates remain low, would disrupt such care.

Patricia Sparrow, chief executive of industry peak body Aged & Community Services Australia, said the orders should be made as soon as possible.

“The health orders should be issued as soon as possible,” she said. “While there shouldn’t be any delay in making the vaccine mandatory, the most important issue to resolve in order to get good take-up will be supply and distribution.

“We have to make it as easy as possible for our workers. Providers are working hard to support and encourage the vaccine rollout.”

The Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation said despite the looming mandate, which will be enforced in six weeks, there still seemed to be no “clear plan” to vaccinate workers and ensure care was not disrupted.

Related: One in four Australian aged care workers fully vaccinated as one-dose deadline looms

“We’re six weeks out and we still don’t see a clear plan of just getting the job done,” ANMF federal secretary Annie Butler said. “And to reiterate, the job was meant to be complete by April, and we still don’t see a clear plan of how this will be achieved.

“We understand there is hesitation, and quite rightly, from some chief health officers because they want to be sure of avoiding any unintended negative consequences.”

Butler said the union was deeply concerned about continuity of care for residents.

“The risk assessment should have come first,” she said.

Butler said there was little hesitancy in the sector.

The problem was access to vaccines.

Some providers have expressed frustration that their workers are having to wait six weeks to book in for vaccines.

Both unions and the sector have urged the government to ramp up in-reach teams, which can visit staff in their workplaces.

The department says it is using in-reach clinics to vaccinate workers and says providers can also deliver their own.

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