Protecting Older Australians – COVID-19 update 8 May 2023

In this issue, read about managing COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccination booster doses, influenza vaccinations, accessing COVID-19 PCR testing through Medicare, IPC Lead Nurse training grants, PPE winter deployment, and the ACCPA Winter preparedness webinar.

Date published:
Audience:
Health sector

Continuing to manage COVID-19 

We acknowledge that COVID-19 continues to disrupt the lives of all Australians, but particularly the most vulnerable people in our communities, including older Australians. It is important that firm and strong protections are maintained to ensure aged care services can protect our older Australians and manage the impact of COVID-19 in a way that is cognisant of rights of older Australians.

All Australians have a role to play in protecting our own health, the health of our loved ones, and supporting our health systems. Vaccination continues to be important in managing the risk related to COVID-19 in high-risk settings, such as aged care. All aged care workers are strongly encouraged to stay up to date with their influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations to aid protection against both infection and severe disease, including accessing a 2023 booster does when eligible.

You may also be interested to know that on 12 December 2022, the Australian Government released the National Statement of Expectations on COVID-19 Management in Aged Care Settings to provide nationally consistent principles and best practice guidance to the aged care sector on their responsibilities for preparing for and responding to COVID‑19 outbreaks, including supporting access to vaccinations in aged care homes.

It sets out and reinforces the Government’s expectation of the actions aged care providers should take, including in relation to ensuring that appropriate Infection Prevention and Control settings are in place and can be scaled up quickly, when needed. It also supports the ability of aged care services to ensure older Australians, at home or in residential settings, receive appropriate protection from and management of any COVID-19 infections in their surrounds.

COVID-19 vaccination booster doses

We encourage all providers to work with primary care providers to plan for residents to receive the COVID-19 booster dose as soon as they are eligible. We recommend that the 2023 COVID-19 booster dose be given prior to June 2023 and at a time of 6 months or greater following the most recent COVID-19 vaccine dose or confirmed infection.

This booster dose will bolster residents' protection from severe illness, hospitalisation, or death from COVID-19 over the winter season. Primary care providers (general practitioners, registered nurses in general practices, community pharmacies) are best placed to provide this service. If you are experiencing difficulty in arranging vaccinations, the Primary Health Networks (PHNs) will facilitate linkages to providers to arrange vaccinations for eligible residents, noting no minimum number of residents is required.

COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be principally administered in residential aged care homes by primary care providers. These primary care providers delivered the majority of COVID-19 vaccinations in residential aged care in 2022 and are well placed to continue this important work.

Where available, we strongly encourage the bivalent vaccine as this offers additional protection against the original COVID-19 virus and the most recent Omicron variants.

The Department is working closely with PHNs to support residential aged care homes that may need assistance with COVID-19 vaccinations for residents. PHNs are facilitating COVID-19 vaccination clinics via primary care providers such as general practitioners and registered nurses in general practices and community pharmacies.

PHNs have now made contact with the majority of residential aged care homes across Australia to offer support. If you have not heard from your local PHN and are in need of assistance, please reach out to them directly or contact the Department by emailing RACFVaccineClinics@health.gov.au.

Influenza vaccinations

Influenza vaccination is important again this year. As travel continues, we are starting to see seasonal influenza activity, with the Australian community potentially more vulnerable to the virus this winter.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) advice strongly recommends that vaccination remains one of the most effective protective factors for both influenza and COVID-19. Both vaccines are recommended for residents ahead of the winter season.

Annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all people aged 6 months and over (unless contraindicated). Free influenza vaccinations are available under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for people most at risk, including all eligible residents aged 65 years and older, subject to local supply arrangements in states and territories.

What you need to do

The stock of influenza vaccines under the NIP has been distributed by states and territories and is available through GPs and pharmacies. Aged care providers must have arrangements in place for the delivery of influenza vaccines for their residents and staff. This includes making sure processes are in place, engaging with your immunisation providers and discussing the program with staff, residents and their families. This is a requirement to comply with the Aged Care Quality Standards.

Your service must take precautions to prevent and control influenza and minimise infection-related risks. This includes:

  • identifying and complying with all relevant Commonwealth and state or territory legislation and regulatory requirements
  • having an effective infection prevention and control (IPC) program that is in line with national guidelines
  • offering free influenza (flu) vaccinations every year to your staff and volunteers and keeping records of their vaccinations.

You must also demonstrate:

  • how you have promoted and informed your staff and volunteers about the benefits of vaccination, including obtaining consent
  • the steps you have taken to encourage staff and volunteers to get vaccinated. 

For more information, refer to the Quality of Care Principles 2014 and the Records Principles 2014.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission assesses compliance with the influenza vaccination program.

For those not eligible for NIP funded vaccines, influenza vaccines are available through private market arrangements. If you have not already done so, you are strongly encouraged to implement arrangements to ensure you meet the requirements set out in the legislation – including working with your immunisation providers to facilitate staff vaccinations.

If you require assistance in organising influenza vaccinations, contact your vaccination provider or your state or territory Department of Health as soon as possible.

Co-administration of COVID-19 and flu vaccination

ATAGI advises that COVID-19 doses are safe to be administered at the same time as the annual influenza vaccination. Co-administration of COVID-19 doses and influenza vaccines for residents is both clinically safe and administratively efficient.

More information on access to influenza vaccinations through the NIP can be found on the Department's website. Promotional materials including posters and brochures are available from the 2023 influenza resource collection.

Reminder: accessing COVID-19 PCR testing through Medicare

From 1 May 2023, residential aged care homes (RACHs) are required to access COVID-19 PCR testing through standard Medicare arrangements, where GPs and nurse practitioners directly request, by referral, COVID-19 and respiratory PCR tests from a pathology provider to assist with the clinical management of patients.

COVID-19 PCR testing is available under Medicare for Medicare eligible patients. Any COVID-19 PCR testing under Medicare must be bulk-billed and at no cost to aged care homes or patients. Information about Medicare eligibility can be found on the Medicare website.

Most pathology providers will organise collection and testing of samples, including onsite testing (like the Sonic service) and results reported directly to the treating practitioner. Some pathology providers may give RACHs access to their residents’ test results via an online portal similar to the Sonic Dx test result portal.

Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) Lead Nurse training grants

Residential aged care providers can still apply for funding to support registered and enrolled nurses to complete specialist IPC Lead Nurse training.

Support is available up to a maximum of $13,020 per eligible nurse, for up to 2 registered or enrolled nurses in each eligible residential aged care home, for costs relating to:

  • fees for suitable IPC training courses
  • wages for study leave
  • wages for backfilling for nurses undertaking study.

This funding provides support for more nurses in residential aged care to access IPC Lead Nurse training. Highly skilled staff will ensure residential aged care homes are well prepared to prevent or manage future infectious disease outbreaks including influenza and COVID-19.

For an IPC specialist course to be deemed suitable, it must:

  • focus on infection prevention and control
  • be specified at the level of AQF8
  • be delivered by a recognised education or training provider
  • have an assessment, or assessments, that facilitate successful completion of the course.

The grant opportunity opened 1 December 2022 and applications close at 2pm, 30 June 2023 (AEST).

Find out more about this Grant Opportunity: Aged Care Infection Prevention and Control Training (GO5867) on the GrantConnect website.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) - Winter deployment

The Australian Government continues to support the sector ahead of winter by deploying PPE packs to all Commonwealth funded residential aged care homes, MPSs, and NATSIFACP services. Deliveries have commenced and all deliveries will be completed by late May 2023. If you have any questions, please contact the Department at AgedCareCOVIDEnquiries@health.gov.au.

Update – Changes to PPE Outbreak and Emergency Packs from the Department of Health and Aged Care

From 3 May 2023, goggles are no longer available for order through the Department. Face shields will continue to remain available as a suitable alternative.

The updated request quantities for each pack type are below:

Outbreak Packs (2 weeks stock)

Facility size  Surgical masks   N95  Gloves S  Gloves M   Gloves L  Gloves XL   Gowns  Face shields  
 Extra small   1800  4100  3000  6000  5000  2000  2900  3200 
 Small   2200  4900  3000  6000  5000  2000  3700  3200 
 Medium  2600  6200  3000  6000  5000  2000  4700  3500 
 Large  3200  7300  5000  8000  7000  2000  5300  4300 
 Extra large  4000  9000  5000  10,000  8000  2000  6700  5000 

Emergency Packs (3 days stock)

Facility size  Surgical masks   N95  Gloves S  Gloves M   Gloves L  Gloves XL   Gowns  Face shields  
 Extra small  960  1080  1000  1000  1000  1000  700  800 
 Small   960   1080   1000   1000   1000   1000   800   800  
 Medium   960   1080   1000   1000   1000   1000   1000   800  
 Large   960   2160   1000   2000   2000   1000   1200   1200  
 Extra large   960   2160   1000   2000   2000   1000   1500   1200  

Please note there are no changes to the current order process. Requests for PPE from the Department can continue to be submitted through the My Aged Care provider portal.

For any queries about this change, please email agedcarecovidliaison@health.gov.au.

ACCPA Winter preparedness webinar for CHSP providers

The Aged and Community Care Provider Association (ACCPA) is hosting a webinar for Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) providers to prepare for the winter season through lessening the risks and impacts of influenza and COVID-19 infection.

Aimed at CHSP providers, this webinar is an opportunity to talk about practical steps providers can take to prepare their service. Speakers from the Department and the Commission will join ACCPA us at this free event for practical advice, actions and tips to lessen the risks and impacts of infection for the older person and the workforce.

When: Tuesday 9 May 2023, at 1.00pm - 2.00pm (AEST).

Please register to attend.

For more information contact events@accpa.asn.au.

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