The past year of the pandemic has been a taxing challenge for all, but the development of various different vaccines has brought about a cautious optimism across Australia as well as globally. Although we cannot afford to get complacent, this solution can prove to be a step towards a COVID-free future. A new normal awaits and vaccines will play an important role in the realisation of that.
The aged care industry houses a particularly vulnerable population to the coronavirus. Recognising that, the Australian Government has given due priority to the various stakeholders in aged care for the vaccine.
Given the constantly evolving situation, it may be hard to keep track of the eligibility requirements for getting the vaccine. This is also true for what options are available to aged care providers, residents and other industry stakeholders. Below, we provide a summary of key considerations about vaccines for aged care that invested parties should take note of.
Australia’s vaccine strategy for aged care
Recognising the vulnerability of those in the aged care sector, the Australian Government has included all aged care stakeholders in Phase 1a of their vaccine rollouts. The Department of Health has already begun implementing vaccines for aged care, with the promise that the vaccines are safe, effective, and free.
Phase 1a is projected to proceed with approximately 1.4 million doses. Among those eligible for the vaccine under this phase include:
- Quarantine and border workers
- Frontline health care worker sub-groups for prioritisation
- Aged care and disability care staff
- Aged care and disability care residents
This means, however, that in-home and community aged care recipients will only be eligible to opt for the vaccine under Phase 1b. This next phase is meant for other elderly adults (70 years and older), younger adults with underlying medical conditions, critical and high risk workers (like emergency services), and other health care workers.
The initial plan set forth by the Australian Government was for Phases 2a, 2b, and 3 to cover the rest of the population, beginning generally from older age groups to younger ones. At the time of writing, however, Australia has already begun vaccinating anyone 50 years of age and above.
Residential aged care facilities might start the rollout of vaccines as well. Vaccines for aged care in Phase 1a will be a critical step to protecting all staff and residents in these facilities. To prepare for this more extensively, the following are several factors to consider for the maintenance of high safety levels in premises during vaccination days.
Considerations for aged care providers
Aged care providers and staff will play an irreplaceable role in the successful implementation of vaccines for aged care stakeholders—including their own. But who exactly falls under the broadly defined Phase 1a ‘aged care staff’ bracket, anyway? The answer: anyone working for a residential aged care facility who has anything to do with resident care, support services, or maintenance and administration staff.
Yes, that means all aged care workers from nursing and personal care staff to kitchen, cleaning, laundry, garden and office staff can register for the vaccine as early as the next slot available. Those who provide services on a volunteer basis, unfortunately, do not fall under this category.
There are multiple stressors facing aged care staff during this time of vaccination rollouts. Those involved will need to coordinate the organisation of either residents’ transport to various clinics or the accommodation of vaccination stations in their home facilities. This is also on top of keeping track of resident information, accounting for each resident’s health status, and taking care of their own vaccination process.
In general, aged care providers will need to ready their facilities and residents for vaccination day. Part of key actionables that will ensure each patient undergoes the proper procedures include the following. One, obtain and record residents’ consent (either written or verbal). Two, uphold stringent monitoring processes and report any adverse side effects that patients may experience. And three, provide updated information to residents every step of the way.
These could prove to be logistical nightmares for aged care staff who must still keep up the quality of their daily responsibilities. Thankfully, staff can keep track of the steps to complete for a successful vaccination process with the following checklist:
- Expect to receive communications advising on priority groups, locations and roll-out plans
- Coordinate with facility colleagues to schedule first and second doses in the most efficient manner
- Take into consideration vaccine adjustment periods and downtime required by staff; which if staggered may be more effective for continued service operations
- Prepare readiness checklist per facility, which should include staff numbers and vaccination date(s) to inform dose requirements
- Communicate these details to the relevant suppliers of vaccines for aged care
- Roll-out doses on vaccination day
- The DOH has an elaborated planning checklist for vaccination day in aged care facilities which may prove useful
Considerations for aged care residents
As the population most in need of protection from the potentially deadly coronavirus; aged care residents likewise have the most at stake in making vaccine-related decisions. The most important consideration for residents is to decide only after being informed about the options available to them.
The next step is to provide consent. Only upon the provision of valid consent can a COVID-19 vaccine be administered to an aged care resident. Each residents’ aged care providers are responsible for obtaining and keeping records of their consent to share with the relevant administrators.
Before giving consent to receive a vaccine, residents may want to consult health professionals about the advantages and risks of each vaccine; especially in relation to their unique health requirements. Consent may also be given by a guardian or substitute decision-maker in accordance with the legislation in various states or territories.
Once the above steps are carried out, aged care residents can leave the rest to their trusted providers and await vaccination day—thereafter taking another step towards a COVID-free world.
What happens on vaccination day
On vaccination day, the wellbeing and status of each vaccine patient will be inquired after first and foremost, before anything else proceeds. A GP will determine if the vaccination proceed should there be any signs of developing illness.
Residents may choose to have someone near and dear by their side on the day shoud they require reassurance. This may be a good option for those who are more comfortable with loved ones; mental fortitude will be key to healing well from the vaccine’s side effects too.
These side effects will have been communicated to patients prior to the vaccine, but going through them is bound to be a different experience. It is thus important to take the initiative to communicate any adverse effects to staff around or colleagues.
Available COVID-19 vaccines in Australia
The two vaccines offered in Australia selectively administered to patients based on their age are:
- AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine: available to people aged 50 years and over
- Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine: available to people aged under 50 years
These are available at general practices, state-operated clinics, dedicated ‘pop-up’ clinics for workers, and provider-led workplace clinics. Eligibility checkers will help inform the nearest and most accessible option to you.
The pandemic has proven to be stubborn and persistent, but our efforts in fighting it will prove even more so. Vaccines for aged care are but the beginning of this ongoing battle. With the proper communication and implementation procedures, there is hope for a COVID-free tomorrow. With more vaccination centres and clinics are popping up; so too will there be an increased need to keep track of visitors entering the premises. It would be too ironic to have an outbreak as a result of earnest vaccination efforts. Of all times, visitor management must not be a forgotten aspect of contact tracing and distancing efforts.
About the author
Other than for work, Marielle loves writing for fun (fantasy fiction is her not-so-secret mistress). She is also an intense Broadway and Disney geek and sometimes sings professionally.