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AHPPC recommends that residential aged care workers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible. This adds an extra layer of protection to aged care residents who have already been offered vaccination.
A high proportion of COVID-19 cases and deaths is observed within the elderly population, and especially in those with pre-existing conditions and comorbidities. Aged care residents are the most vulnerable population and managing their risk of infection can be assisted by decreasing transmission from people entering residential aged care facilities. In Australia to date, most residents who have contracted COVID-19 have been infected through the virus being imported into the Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACF) by staff or visitors.
This means that in an outbreak, vaccinated individuals are less likely to be significant drivers of spread, and transmission will be dominated by unvaccinated people. It is important to note this may differ between different variants and may change with emergence of new variants of concern that show greater transmissibility and/or vaccine escape.
Vaccination of anybody entering the RACF is an important mechanism to protect residents. In January 2021, AHPPC strongly encouraged the uptake of COVID-19 vaccination by the residential aged care workforce and notes ongoing efforts to facilitate access for aged care workers. AHPPC notes less restrictive measures have not yet achieved high levels of residential aged care worker coverage. The availability of and access to choice of vaccines is likely to improve uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations by aged care workers.
AHPPC also notes increased rates of community transmission, particularly now the Delta variant is present in Australia, increases the risk of exposure to residents in aged care facilities. AHPPC recommends to National Cabinet that the residential aged care workforce be vaccinated against COVID-19, as a condition of working in a residential aged care facility, by 17 September 2021.
AHPPC notes that mandating vaccination for this cohort could have unintended consequences, including on the availability of the workforce, which in turn, could impact the quality and safety of resident care. AHPPC recommends that a robust risk and benefit assessment be completed and provided to National Cabinet by early August, highlighting the key risks and proposed mitigations ahead of implementing the mandate.
AHPPC will continue to monitor the situation and provide advice to National Cabinet.