Just over half of Australia’s eligible aged care residents have had a fourth Covid vaccine dose, prompting the federal health minister, Mark Butler, to warn the winter rollout “has been too slow”.
Health department data shows about 63,515 aged care residents have had their fourth shot – that’s 51.3% of the eligible population.
Aged care residents are considered eligible if it has been more than four months since their first booster or three months since they tested positive to coronavirus.
Butler said: “It’s clear the winter rollout in aged care has been too slow.”
“That’s why I wrote to all providers with [the aged care] minister, Anika Wells, last week – we said there must be a sense of urgency to protect residents and workers, and we meant it.
“We are urging all aged care facilities to prioritise the vaccination of all residents for a fourth dose.”
Data on fourth dose vaccination rates in aged care has not been publicly released since the winter rollout began on 4 April. The health department does, however, publish more general data on fourth dose uptake among all those who are 65 or older, showing about 52.7% have had the latest booster.
The government last week signalled its displeasure at the slow nature of the aged care booster program.
The latest health department data shows Covid-related deaths are continuing to climb at a significant rate. In the week to 10 June, 110 deaths were recorded in aged care, taking the total to 2,670 since the start of the pandemic. Two-thirds of those deaths have occurred in the first six months of this year.
However, the data shows the number of active outbreaks in aged care is decreasing.
There were 646 active outbreaks on 10 June, 48 fewer than the week prior, and 4,941 active cases, which includes 3,331 residents and 1,610 staff. The number of active cases was down by more than 500 from a week earlier.
The aged care sector said it is confident the winter rollout – which is concurrently providing influenza vaccinations to residents – is proceeding smoothly.
In their letter, Butler and Wells urged providers to bring forward vaccination clinics, but also to seek vaccinations through primary care providers for any residents who were eligible.
Providers “must not wait” to have eligible residents vaccinated, they said.
The aged care industry peak body, Aged & Community Care Providers Association, said its members were already seeking vaccinations through primary care where possible and it was “not receiving feedback of major concerns about this”.
Third-dose coverage in aged care remains strong. About 166,000 residents have received three or more doses – that’s 94% of the eligible population.