AT a Senate Committee hearing on July 23, the federal Chief Medical Officer Prof Kelly listed priority categories for vaccination against COVID-19: “… respiratory technicians and doctors in private practice; teachers and their families; construction workers; FIFO [Fly In Fly Out] workers; freight drivers; airline employees, and flight crews in particular; employees of Wesfarmers, Coles and Woolies; cleaners in various high-risk settings; front-line emergency workers; call centre staff; families of healthcare workers; distribution centre workers; and Uber drivers and taxi drivers. I think the point is that everyone is a priority right now.”
Not mentioned were home care workers.
Lieutenant-General John Frewen, who heads the Government’s vaccine taskforce, told the same Senate Committee hearing on July 23: “I’m specifically focused on the aged-care workers at this time.” He meant workers in nursing homes. About home care workers he said: “It is not a focused effort at the moment”.
There are about 150,000 home-care workers. Between 7 and 8 per cent were fully vaccinated and between 16 and 17 per cent had received one dose by 23 July. This means only one in four home care workers had been vaccinated.
Being a priority for vaccination against COVID-19 would be recognition of the risk home care workers and their clients run. Residential aged care workers have been made a priority category.
Nursing home workers risk infecting many more people while working in one or multiple nursing homes than do home care workers, even if home care workers have six or seven clients in a day.
And yet nursing home workers are still not fully vaccinated and are having problems in meeting a 17 September deadline to get fully vaccinated. Health Department figures show only 32 per cent have received two doses of vaccine and just over 50 per cent only one dose.
The urgency of vaccinating the entire adult and perhaps even the non-adult population of Australia has been brought home by the Sydney Delta variant outbreak. That has brought into sharp focus that Australia failed early on, when it could have made sure it would get any vaccine under development, such as Pfizer, as soon as these vaccines were approved and get enough of them. Now, we’re still waiting.