The rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations in aged care “has been a shemozzle”, with some residents and staff in homes throughout Australia still not being given any indication of when they might receive their first dose, according to the researcher and co-founder of the advocacy group Aged Care Reform Now, Dr Sarah Russell.
Her criticism comes as data from the federal Department of Health shows that residents at less than a third of aged care facilities have received the vaccine.
“The commonwealth does not have the expertise or the experience to deliver services at this scale,” Russell told Guardian Australia. “Given aged care is a high-risk population and the staff are mobile, I consider them a priority group along with hospitals. Our prime minister should have given his jab to a nurse.”
Russell said residents and staff in aged care had been sharing their experiences, and reports of vaccine uncertainty were widespread. This includes in Victoria, where the second wave of the virus devastated aged care homes – about 95% of Covid-related aged care deaths in Australia occurred in Victoria.
A staff member of a large not-for-profit home in Victoria who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “I asked yesterday at my 150-bed facility and was told ‘anytime’ in the next 12 weeks for our residents, with at least three aged over 100, and staff would be vaccinated afterwards.
“We had over 80 infections and lost 11 residents last year,” she said.
A woman whose father is in a different Victorian aged care home said residents had not had the vaccine. “Staff have not had the Covid vaccine either,” she said. “Meanwhile, an email just received from the manager states that there is still no indication of a timeline for when vaccinations might occur.”
In 2016-17, 97% of people in residential aged care were aged 65 and over, with some 232,000 in permanent residential aged care, data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows. A federal health department spokesperson said as of 1 April 2021, more than 105,000 vaccines had been delivered to aged care and disability facilities.
“Aged care residents have been vaccinated in over 880 residential aged care and disability facilities, with over 300 of those facilities having received a second dose,” she said. There are about 2,700 aged care facilities in Australia.
Guardian Australia asked whether any vaccine batches had been wasted or gone missing.
A spokesperson for the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said the government could only provide figures on aged care residents and staff, “noting that some states are responsible for vaccinating aged care residents in government-owned facilities”.
The request for information was passed on to the federal health department of health, which did not directly answer questions about whether vaccines had been wasted and if so, how many doses.
“The Australian government has undertaken detailed implementation planning with jurisdictions and providers to ensure access to doses and to minimise wastage,” a health spokeswoman said.
“Vaccination providers are encouraged to minimise wastage wherever possible through batching bookings within a vaccination session to match the number of doses available and following the excess dose policy.”
While NSW Health could not provide a detailed breakdown of 1a vaccinations by subgroup, a health department spokesperson said 100,000 people in the 1a group had received at least their first dose, and that every frontline hotel quarantine staff member had been vaccinated.
A Queensland Health spokesperson said all 37,000 people initially identified in the phase 1a cohort “will have been offered an opportunity to be vaccinated by the end of this week”. More comprehensive data is expected to be made public on Friday, she said.
WA Health provided the most comprehensive data, saying 64% of the 16,078 quarantine, airport, port and WA Health workers had received dose one and 27% dose two. Of 3,528 border workers, 64% had received dose one and 29% dose two. Fifty-three per cent of 1,752 hotel workers had received their first dose, and 25% their second. There are 10,798 other workers in group 1a in WA including ambulance staff and WA police, 65% of whom had received their first dose and 27% their second. The commonwealth was responsible for state-specific aged care figures, a WA Health spokeswoman said.
An update from Victoria’s chief health officer issued on Thursday said 107,522 vaccines had been administered in that state. “As part of the Commonwealth’s rollout, Victoria is responsible for providing vaccinations to workers in health, emergency services and other critical industries and public sector aged care residents and staff,” the statement said.
The update said the commonwealth was responsible for the majority of vaccinations in Victoria in phase 1b: “Most of the vaccine supply in Victoria is provided to Commonwealth-run general practice sites.” More than two-thirds of Victorian health workers allocated to phase 1a have received their first dose, while “almost all” hotel quarantine workers and border workers had also received their first dose, though like New South Wales, Victoria’s health department did not give specific numbers.
The updates follow anger from the states and territories over the way the commonwealth has handled the rollout, with premiers accusing the federal government of not giving them enough notice before the delivery of vaccines.
The federal government initially committed to administering 4m doses by the end of March, including up to 1.4m doses to the most high-risk people as part of phase 1a of the rollout. Fewer than 692,000 doses had been administered as of 1 April.