Gov warns providers over COVID-19 vaccination rates

Published on 28 May 2024 (Last updated on 13 June 2024)

Aged care providers have been warned over low vaccination rates, but are COVID-19 cases actually increasing? [Copilot]

How high are the vaccination rates in your residential care homes? Chances are they’re not currently high enough to appease the Government. 

Last week, the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner, Janet Anderson AM, wrote to all board chairs of residential care providers about their concerns over “disappointingly low” COVID-19 vaccination rates.

Their letter coincides with winter’s approach when COVID-19 and influenza cases typically rise, while a new COVID-19 variant called FLiRT rapidly spreads.

“Vaccination remains the best line of defence in reducing the risk of serious illness and death of aged care residents for both COVID-19 and influenza. However vaccination rates in residential aged care remain disappointingly low,” the letter reads.

“You and your Board are responsible for ensuring that residents have access to the recommended vaccine dose as soon as they are eligible. Under Aged Care Quality Standard 3: Personal care and clinical care, aged care providers are also expected to offer staff influenza vaccinations and keep records of these vaccinations.”

“We do appreciate your continued efforts to protect the people in your care. The evidence is compelling that old age is the biggest risk to becoming seriously ill with COVID-19, and it is now well understood that people living in residential aged care are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and other infections.”

According to the Government’s most recent residential aged care snapshot from May 23, there are 3,687 active COVID-19 cases across 416 separate outbreaks. Almost 2,400 new resident cases and 37 resident deaths were reported last week, plus an additional 1,180 new staff cases. 

These figures are at their highest peak since January and are similar to last year’s winter spike that started dropping off in July. 

Currently, COVID-19 vaccinations are recommended every 12 months for people over 65 and every six months for those over 75 and/or who are severely immunocompromised. 

As of May 8, 43.2% of aged care residents have received a COVID-19 booster dose within the previous six months, while 74% of residents have received a booster since January 1, 2023. 

This drop-off reflects the general mood toward vaccinations with vaccination fatigue leaving many people of all ages reluctant to have a booster. Similarly, half of the 65-plus population has received their influenza vaccination, with younger cohorts far behind the uptake.

“The value and importance of taking these actions is underscored by the data. People who were vaccinated for influenza last year had a reduced risk of hospitalisation with flu by 68% and the need to visit a GP due to flu by 64%,” the letter continues.

“While COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness data continues to emerge, COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be effective against hospitalisation (reducing the risk by 71–77%), and against ICU admission (by 73%).”

The letter adds that rapid access to oral antivirals must be a part of planning to reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalisation and death. 

“In case there is any doubt, let us be clear that oral antivirals as a first line treatment for people with COVID-19 should be administered, ideally in the first 24 hours after a confirmed diagnosis, in addition to vaccinations as a vital preventative measure to reduce the overall risk presented by a COVID-19 infection.”

Thankfully, while the latest COVID-19 variant – FLiRT – is more transmissible than other variants doing the rounds, its symptoms are no more severe. That said, they can still have a serious impact on specific cohorts including older people with compromised immune systems or comorbidities.

“One of the main challenges with a new variant or subvariant like those possessing the FLiRT mutation is that immunity generated from previous vaccination and infection doesn’t work as well,” Paul Griffin, an infectious disease physician and clinical microbiologist at the University of Queensland, told ABC.

“The best way of reducing the impact of rising case numbers is to be prepared and do all the basic things we’ve been talking about essentially since the pandemic began, particularly getting boosters in accordance with current recommendations.”

The Government also reinforced the importance of infection prevention and control (IPC) practices and procedures. They also warned that the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (Commission) is heightening its monitoring of provider actions taken for self-assessment and readiness. 

“As we are sure you are aware, under the Aged Care Quality Standards in the Aged Care Act 1997, every aged care provider is responsible for ensuring that they have sufficient staff with the necessary knowledge and skills to provide safe, respectful and quality care and services,” they added. 

“Aged care providers are also responsible for ensuring that staff have the necessary training, including in IPC practices and procedures, and in the appropriate use of PPE.”

Department of Health and Aged Care
infection prevention
infection prevention and control
janet anderson
covid-19 booster
Paul Kelly