The expert Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends an additional COVID-19 vaccine dose for residents in aged care facilities before winter.
The recommended COVID-19 Winter vaccine dose is to bolster residents’ protection from severe illness, hospitalisation or death from COVID-19 over the winter season.
In addition to aged care residents and people living in disability accommodation, ATAGI recommends a COVID-19 Winter dose for other vulnerable groups also considered to be most at risk of serious illness. These groups, which may include some of your workforce, are:
- adults aged 65 years and older
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 50, and
- people aged 16 years and older who are severely immunocompromised.
ATAGI recommends the above vulnerable groups receive their COVID-19 Winter dose from 4 months after their initial booster dose.
In special circumstances, individuals may be vaccinated at a shorter interval, such as in aged care facilities and remote communities, where some flexibility of the minimum interval may facilitate vaccination of a larger proportion of individuals.
The additional booster dose should not be administered less than 3 months from the previous booster dose.
COVID-19 Winter vaccine doses will be available for these vulnerable groups from 4 April 2022.
Aged care providers should now start planning for the delivery of COVID-19 Winter vaccines for their residents.
Co-administration of COVID-19 Winter dose and annual flu vaccination
As occurs in the winter months, it is anticipated this year Australia will see an increase in respiratory viruses such as influenza, as well as in COVID-19 cases.
ATAGI advises that COVID-19 Winter doses can be administered at the same time as the annual flu vaccination.
Co-administration of COVID-19 Winter doses and influenza vaccines for residents is both clinically safe and administratively efficient.
In planning your winter vaccine programs, aged care providers are encouraged to:
- identify and optimise opportunities for co-administration of COVID-19 Winter doses and flu vaccines where possible.
- not delay the administering of flu vaccines to residents if co-administration is not possible or is likely to delay flu vaccination.
Options for your COVID-19 Winter vaccination program
Below are the options available to your facility to organise your Winter COVID-19 vaccinations for residents, and for workers who meet ATAGI’s definition of vulnerable groups at risk.
1. Primary care providers for COVID-19 Winter dose administration
Primary care providers will be the key delivery channel for on-site COVID-19 Winter dose vaccinations in residential aged care.
Each facility should work with their existing primary care provider to plan for delivery of COVID-19 Winter dose vaccinations as residents become eligible (i.e. from 4 months after an initial COVID-19 booster dose).
As primary care providers can administer flu vaccinations and COVID-19 vaccinations at the same time:
- If your annual flu vaccinations are administered on-site by a primary care provider, you can request they also administer COVID-19 Winter vaccine doses at the same time or, if required, separately.
- Do not delay your flu vaccination clinics if COVID-19 Winter dose vaccinations cannot be undertaken at the same time.
If you require assistance in organising for a primary care provider to deliver your COVID-19 Winter vaccine doses, please contact your Primary Health Network now.
2. Commonwealth in-reach COVID-19 Winter Dose Clinics
Facilities that are unable to secure a primary care provider to administer COVID-19 Winter vaccine doses, either directly or via their Primary Health Network, will be able to request an in-reach Commonwealth COVID-19 Winter Dose Vaccination clinic.
To be eligible for a Commonwealth COVID-19 Winter Dose clinic:
- a facility will need to have 10% or more of their resident population requiring a COVID-19 vaccination and this equates to at least 10 residents in total.
- the minimum 10% of residents requiring a vaccination can include those requiring a winter dose as well as a first, second or booster dose a COVID-19 vaccine.
If a facility does not meet the above threshold and is unable to access any alternate means to deliver COVID-19 Winter dose vaccinations, the facility can register interest for a Commonwealth in-reach COVID-19 Winter dose clinic.
An online form will be made available from 4 April 2022 to 31 May 2022 for facilities wishing to request a Commonwealth COVID-19 Winter Dose clinic.
Please note that the Commonwealth clinics will only deliver COVID-19 vaccines. Your facility will be required to make separate arrangements for administration of flu vaccines unless:
- you have a contracted commercial provider to administer your annual flu vaccinations, and this provider is also contracted by the Commonwealth to deliver in-reach COVID-19 Winter dose clinics in your area
- this provider agrees at your direct request to administer both vaccine programs at the same time. You will be required to organise the flu vaccination component directly with that provider.
3. Aged care provider on-site COVID-19 Winter dose clinics
Aged care providers previously approved by the Commonwealth to conduct their self-run on-site COVID-19 vaccination clinics can opt to run their own COVID-19 Winter Dose clinics.
These aged care providers can also opt to administer flu vaccinations at the same time, if authorised to do so by their respective state or territory government. It is important to note that only the COVID-19 vaccination component will be covered under the provider’s contract with the Commonwealth.
Start engaging with your residents and workers now
All facilities are strongly encouraged to start engaging now with your residents and their families to discuss the recommended COVID-19 Winter dose, the importance of optimising residents’ protection against the risk of serious illness from COVID-19, and how the winter dose vaccinations will be made available at your facility.
You are also strongly encouraged to start engaging with your workforce to ensure that those workers who are recommended to receive a COVID-19 Winter dose are supported to access one as they become eligible. These workers should be offered their COVID-19 Winter dose if eligible at the time of your on-site vaccination program for residents.
Workers who are recommended to receive a COVID-19 Winter dose will also be able to access a vaccination at existing channels including state and territory clinics, GPs and pharmacies.
The recommended COVID-19 Winter doses are voluntary and only recommended for those groups considered by ATAGI to be at most risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
While first, second and booster doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are mandatory for residential aged care workers across Australia, the recommended winter dose is not mandatory.
The COVID-19 Winter dose is only recommended for those workers who are considered by ATAGI to be at most risk to optimise their personal protection against COVID-19.
It is important to ensure that all workers at your facility are up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccination, including booster dose, in accordance with your state or territory public health directions.
Fact sheets will shortly be available to you to share with your residents and their families and with your workforce on COVID-19 Winter dose recommendations.