Aged care workers a priority: vaccine boss

Rollout chief Lieutenant General John Frewen says vaccinating aged care staff is a top priority.
Rollout chief Lieutenant General John Frewen says vaccinating aged care staff is a top priority.

The military commander in charge of Australia's coronavirus vaccine rollout insists aged care workers remain a priority.

Only one in three aged care staff have been vaccinated despite becoming eligible in the first phase of the program, which started in late February.

The entire workforce was meant to be vaccinated by April.

Lieutenant General John Frewen acknowledged aged care staff were a critical workforce and said they were being treated as an absolute priority.

"We are accelerating efforts to get those aged care workers vaccinated," he told the ABC on Tuesday.

"They are at about 36 per cent now, which is actually above the broader national average, so progress is being made."

Early in the vaccine rollout, the federal government decided to prioritise aged care residents over nursing home staff, considering them the most vulnerable.

"Hindsight is a wonderful thing," Lt Gen Frewen said.

The strategy was supposedly designed to guard against workforce shortages, should staff develop vaccine side effects and call in sick.

But NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard cannot comprehend the earlier approach to vaccines.

"We couldn't quite understand why the federal government sent teams into the aged care facilities to vaccinate residents and not staff," he told ABC radio.

Five residents of a Sydney nursing home have tested positive to coronavirus after two staff members were diagnosed.

Vaccines will be mandatory for residential aged care staff from mid-September.

The government has introduced an $11 million grant scheme to help aged care workers take time off to get vaccinated and stay home if they feel side effects.

Unions are urging the government to immediately provide in-workplace jabs for aged care workers as well as paid vaccination leave.

"Aged care workers shouldn't have to take matters into their own hands and use aged care residents' leftover doses," ACTU president Michele O'Neil said.

"They should be provided with in-workplace vaccinations."

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has raised concerns about home-based aged care workers excluded from the vaccine drive.

Mr Albanese said the vaccine mandate did not apply to 150,000 aged care staff who looked after one million older Australians living in the community.

He warned the failure to include community workers was "a huge gaping hole" in the vaccine program and an outbreak waiting to happen.

"The government doesn't even have a plan for these workers," Mr Albanese told 2GB radio.

Australian Associated Press