Protecting Older Australians – COVID-19 update 21 February 2022

In this issue, Are you up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations?, COVID-19 oral treatment, Advice on Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) , COVID Testing requirements for pathology collection teams entering QLD and NSW RACFs, NSW health updates and clinical waste survey.

Date published:
Audience:
Health sector

Thank you for continuing to stay up to date with the latest information.

Please share this newsletter with your colleagues and workforce, particularly your communications teams and encourage them to subscribe for future updates. You can view past editions of the Protecting Older Australians Newsletter as well as other announcements for the aged care sector on the department's website.

Anyone living in an aged care facility, their family or representative who needs support should contact the Older Person’s Advocacy Network on 1800 700 600.

Are you up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations?

As a residential aged care worker, being up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination will help protect you, your co-workers and the people in your care from getting and transmitting COVID-19 to others.

Residents of aged care facilities (RACFs) are among the most vulnerable to severe outcomes of COVID-19. Being vaccinated will reduce the risk of transmission to residents and workers.

Protecting yourself through vaccination will also help to protect your family and community from the impacts of COVID-19.

You are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination when you have received a booster dose at least three months after your second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The immunity created by COVID-19 vaccines begins to wane over time. A ‘top up’ or ‘booster’ dose after a primary course helps boost your immunity against COVID-19.

A booster dose increases protection against infection, severe disease, and dying from COVID-19. It will also continue to protect you, your loved ones, your workplace and your community against COVID-19.

Vaccine boosters are not new. Other vaccines, such as tetanus and whooping cough, require booster doses to ensure ongoing protection against serious illness.

Further details regarding the timing of your booster, and the definition of ‘up-to-date’ for your vaccine status, can be found in the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) clinical advice.

On 10 February 2022, National Cabinet endorsed the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) recommendation to mandate COVID-19 booster vaccinations for residential aged care workers across Australia. Implementation of booster shot mandates for residential aged care workers will be made consistent with arrangements already in place through state and territory public health orders and equivalent arrangements.

In addition to the direct health and social benefits, having a booster vaccine is now a condition of employment for residential aged are workers in the Northern Territory, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.

To support the AHPPC recommendation, National Cabinet also agreed to priority access for residential aged care workers through all vaccination channels, including:

  • State and territory vaccination clinics – book now through the  COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic Finder
  • primary care providers including GPs and community pharmacies – book now through the COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic Finder
  • on-site booster clinics – ask your employer when a return booster clinic, or visiting primary care provider, will be on site at your workplace
  • dedicated worker vaccination hubs – book an appointment at dedicated worker vaccination hubs – these hubs are available for a limited time so aged care workers should book without delay.

For more information visit Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in aged care.

COVID-19 oral treatment for residential aged care facilities

The Australian Government has sent supplies of Lagevrio® (molnupiravir) through the National Medical Stockpile to all residential aged care facilities (RACFs).

Lagevrio® is provisionally approved for use in COVID-19 positive adults who do not require supplemental oxygen due to COVID-19 and are at increased risk of progression to hospitalisation or death.

RACFs will be required to:

  • ensure authorised prescription, by a GP or nurse practitioner, before administering the medication to a COVID-19 positive resident
  • store the medication in usual secure medicines storage.

Lagevrio® (molnupiravir) is not listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and therefore is not currently available through community pharmacies.

Find out more about COVID-19 oral treatments for RACFs on the department's website.

Latest advice – Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs)

 Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) detection of Omicron

Before any brand of Rapid Antigen Test can be used in Australia, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) will assess its safety, quality and effectiveness.

In addition, the TGA also requires all manufacturers to provide ongoing data about the performance and accuracy of their tests, which it then carefully reviews. This includes the ability to detect variants like Omicron.

Omicron is still relatively new so not all manufacturers have completed testing of their RATs for this variant – but this does not mean that the tests are ineffective. The protein that RATs mainly look for is not the spike protein, which people have heard so much about – and which can change when COVID-19 mutates. The common protein RATs look for is far more stable and scientists have shown that it has not changed as much, meaning the tests should remain effective against the Omicron variant.

The evidence so far indicates that the RATs used in Australia can detect the Omicron variant. However, if any data is found that shows them to be ineffective, or unable to detect a particular COVID-19 variant, the TGA will withdraw its approval of the product and issue a warning to users. This information will be provided on the TGA website.

Use of RATs allocated to concession card holders by RACFs

The department has received reports from community pharmacies that they have been asked to supply RACFs with free rapid antigen test (RAT) kits, available to concession card holders.

Under the guidelines for the free RAT kit program, community pharmacies cannot supply RATs to RACFs to screen or test their residents. Free RAT kits for concession card holders are available for elderly people living in the community.

RACFs are responsible for providing all necessary screening and testing resources. RACFs must either use the RAT kits supplied to outbreak sites from the National Medical Stockpile, or purchase RATs from commercial suppliers.

Using RATs – Training and support

Training and support for the use of RATs will be provided to your facility through external provider, Respond Global. Any RACF using Point of Care (PoC) tests are required to undertake this training provided, as this is a requirement under TGA requirements. The orientation and training can begin at your earliest convenience, even if you are yet to receive your tests.

To commence the process, the Facility Manager and/or Lead Clinician can register. This will ensure your facility receives links to materials, training, updates and support including competency-based training for all staff.

Should you have any questions, please contact Respond Global on (07) 5438 3611.

COVID Testing requirements for Pathology Collection Teams entering QLD and NSW RACFs

Pathology Collection Team members from recognised pathology providers are not required to be COVID-19 tested more than once a day. When Pathology Collection Team members enter a RACF, facilities can request to see evidence of a negative COVID-19 test for that day. The evidence could include:

  • a time stamped photo of their negative RAT result for that day
  • a system generated SMS indicating a negative test for that day.

Workers should not carry the negative RAT with them as the results will deteriorate throughout the day.

NSW Health updated directions

The screening advice for residential aged care facilities and home care service providers has been updated for 18 February 2022.

The key messages for this update include:

  • emergency services providers are not visitors and are not required to undertake a RAT prior to entering a RACF 
  • Home Care Providers should assist clients in reporting positive RAT results where the client is unable to self-report.

Victoria - Reminder – Weekly clinical waste survey

In light of the rapidly evolving coronavirus situation, the Victorian Government has developed a weekly survey for clinical facilities including Health Services and Aged Care facilities, to understand current volumes of clinical waste stored on site and waste management constraints.

This is an ongoing survey which providers are encouraged to complete each week. The information you provide is helping to inform the Victorian Government of clinical waste volumes and waste management constraints across the state to enable appropriate action.

Complete the Clinical Waste Backlog survey.

For more information or assistance in completing this survey please contact waste.emergency@delwp.vic.gov.au.

For more information on the updated guidance for COVID-19 related waste at aged care facilities please contact the Environment Protection Authority Victoria epa.vic.gov.au or phone 1300 372 842.

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