Department of Health meeting hosted for disability support workers
1:01:30
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Alison:

Good morning everyone, thank you for joining us for our webinar focused on disability support workers.

My name is Alison McMillan. I'm the Commonwealth Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, and I will be your Chair for today.

I will introduce our panel in a moment, and we also have an Auslan interpreter.

Can I ask you, please, if you are not speaking, if you can make sure that your microphone is muted, please.

Just to make it easier for the system to cope, so please put yourself on mute.

The session will go for an hour, and we'll have a range of questions and I will focus on providing those to the panel members to answer.

We also have an Auslan interpreter with us today, which you can choose to focus on her screen if that's your preferred communication.

The session will be recorded so it can be viewed by others at another time.

But first if I could first acknowledge the traditional owners on the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to elders past present and emerging.

And of course welcome any First Nations people who may be joining us on this webinar today.

I’m going to, as I said I’m the Chief Nurse and Midwife, I will go to each of our panel members and ask them just to give us a few short lines on who they are.

So first I’m going to go to Professor Nick Lennox who is the Senior Medical Advisor in disability and health.

So Nick would you like to introduce yourself.

Nick you’re on mute.

 

Nick:

So I’ve worked in the area of intellectual disability for the last 30 years. Formally the head of a centre based at the University of Queensland, in the Mater hospital and provided healthcare and done research and teaching in the area during that period.

Thank you.

 

Alison:

Can I ask please for everyone participating to mute if you're not speaking, please, because we can hear quite a lot of background in the session thank you.

Okay, Chris Faulkner, Assistant Secretary for the vaccine taskforce in disability.

Chris first let me recognise your recent honour in the Queen's birthday honours, a PSM congratulations.

Chris, I'll let you introduce yourself please if you don't mind.

 

Chris:

Thank you Alison, and let me reflect that back at you as well, so congratulations.

Thank you, my name is Chris Faulkner, Assistant Secretary in the COVID vaccine.

There is a background isn’t there, apologies.

 

Alison:

We are just going to try and mute that person.

Ok, go ahead again Chris.

 

Chris:

Currently with the vaccination taskforce to assist in the roll out for Phase 1a.

My background is with National Disability Insurance Agency with complex participant young people in resi aged care.

Apologies, I hope you hear that.

I don’t know where that background noise is coming from.

Thank you.

 

Alison:

Thank you Chris, we’ll plow on.

Next if I could go to Barb Dow, the Executive Lead for the COVID Response Unit and the National Incident Controller at Life Without Barriers.

Barb, if I could just ask you to introduce yourself please.

 

Barb:

Thanks Alison, yes hello everyone.

I think that Alison has already said my title, so I’m currently in that role.

Life Without Barriers being a very large national organisation, we’ve taken a national approach to both the pandemic management, and the vaccination roll out.

So I’m currently working in that role to provide that leadership at a national level, and I’ve got a multi-disciplinary team working with me.

Prior to that I worked very much in senior roles, in operational roles, in client services in non-govies particularly.

So thanks Alison.

 

Alison:

Thanks Barb, and finally, but by no means last, Samantha Ferguson.

Sam who is a team leader with Life Without Barriers. Sam would you like to introduce yourself.

Hi I’m Sam.

 

Sam:

I’m a house supervisor at one of the houses in Victoria.

I’ve been in the in the disability field for 26 years, and managing this house for

14.

So thank you.

 

Alison:

Thanks Sam.

So we already got some questions that have been provided to us prior to this.

We are going to start working through those questions. But obviously, you can pose questions in the chat if you're familiar with the system.

Usually on the bottom right side is a little bubble that will give you the opportunity to put questions there.

We will try to get to as many questions as we can, and hope that we can answer as much as we can for you.

So perhaps I’ll just give a quick overview.

As you know at the moment in Australia there are two vaccines available, and we have, through the advice of ATAGI, who are the expert group providing Government with advice on vaccines, a program of roll out of the vaccine with an aim, to offer every Australian who, or every person in Australia who wishes to become vaccinated

to be vaccinated.

It is voluntary, but obviously particularly with a focus on those who do that critically important job in disability, we are keen to encourage all recipients of disability services and disability support workers to get vaccinated.

So there are a range of ways in which you can access the vaccine, and we will go to some of that as some of the, through some questions.

The two vaccines that are available in Australia at the moment are Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

Both vaccines require two doses. Both vaccines have got an enormously great track record across the world at the moment in preventing severe disease and death.

The efficacy is very high, and so our focus of course is that.

That doesn't mean to say, though, that you cannot still catch COVID if you've been vaccinated.

And we’re learning as we’re going along from across the world around how much having the vaccine might impact on transmission and we’ll continue to learn about that.

Recently also, the recommendations have changed on around whether you’re planning to be pregnant, are pregnant, or breastfeeding.

And that advice to women and families is available on our website, as is a huge amount of information.

So it’s important to understand that, as the evidence base grows, as more information becomes available to us, we will continue to refine our advice about

these vaccines and other vaccines that may emerge into the future for use in Australia.

So the advice changing doesn't mean to say that the advice previously wasn’t right.

It was based on the evidence available to us at that time. But as I say, it will continue to change.

So one of the questions that's come to us is that, the person asking has asked about, it’s an unfortunate term, but anti-vaxxers.

And the person asking the question is therefore expressing some fear around vaccinations.

So firstly it’s really important to acknowledge that fear of vaccines and needles is quite normal, and expected.

And the important thing is to have access to the most credible and reliable information to you.

So I would recommend that you go either to health.gov.au where there’s a wealth of

video-based, written, multi-language information around the vaccines, and there are a range of questions.

And we’ve gone to the extent of even asking questions that on first, think you might think that’s an odd question.

So we’ve tried to answer every question that we can possibly get, because no question is stupid.

So I do recommend that you try to access the most reliable information in Australia, which is obviously all of those.

States and territories have their vaccination information on their website, as does the Commonwealth Government.

If you go looking in Google and other places like that, you have not got perhaps, would not have as much confidence in the reliability of that information.

Also if you access it from overseas, advice of course, that may be different to what the Australian advice is because the circumstances of the pandemic in Australia are very different to some countries overseas.

So I’d like to encourage therefore everyone to have a very serious think about what vaccination means for you as a disability support worker, what it means for those you support, and what it also means for your family, and for us as a country.

But again, obviously the vaccine is voluntary, it’s not mandated, and it’s freely available to everyone.

You don’t need a Medicare card, or any of those things, you are, everyone is eligible to access the vaccine which is important.

So the next question, I’m going to give to Nick.

Nick, would you like to talk to our audience about how the vaccines are approved please.

 

Nick:

Yeah, thank you Alison. In Australia we have the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which approves vaccines after a complete assessment of all the available data.

They’ve given provisional approval to the Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

And can I emphasise that the TGA, which is the Therapeutic Goods Administration, does a very comprehensive six-stage approval process, and in no part of this process has the approval been rushed, or pushed ahead.

They haven’t cut any corners, and indeed we’ve been in a very lucky position about having data from overseas, which is very strong data, to inform their decisions.

So that’s how the process occurs, it’s a rigorous, scientific evaluation by a group of well-trained people who know what they’re doing.

Back to you Alison.

 

Alison:

Thanks, thanks for that Nick.

My next question I’m going to pose to Chris Faulkner. Chris this is coming from a disability support worker and they’re saying, families are asking me who helps with post-vaccination support for my participants who live at the home?

 

Chris:

Thanks Alison. And so if an individual is being vaccinated at the home via an in-reach GP, or if they are actually going to their GP to be vaccinated, the vaccination team will make sure they monitor for at least a short while after that to see if there’s any adverse event in terms of a reaction to that.

They will provide information on symptoms or signs to look out for, they’ll advise that it’s not unusual to be feeling in the first 24 hours either a sore arm, or feeling vaguely, specifically unwell.

And again, there is advice on numbers to contact if you do have any concerns.

And that’s either the National Coronavirus helpline, or of course your GP, or of course if you are significantly concerned about their welfare, then it would be an emergency call to triple zero if that’s the level of concern a worker has for the individual they’re looking after.

Thanks.

 

Alison:

Thanks Chris.

And again, it’s important to go and look at the information available on the website, because it is anticipated that about 30 percent of people will get some side effects from the vaccines.

They vary in their impact, and when you might get them, but you could anticipate a little like sometimes you do with the flu vaccine.

You might anticipate to get some mild symptoms, they’re very short-lived, usually, and resolved in a couple of days.

And that leads to the next question which I’m going to pose to Barb, and it comes to that issue of side effects.

So Barb, the question is, I’m worried about getting the vaccination in case I get sick as I’m a causal employee, and won’t get paid if I have to take sick leave.

Would you be able to answer that question?

 

Barb:

Sure, I think it’s worth asking your own organisation what their particular policy is.

A lot of organisations are trying to take a number of supportive measures, you know recognising these kinds of situations so that not to discourage people from getting vaccinated.

So I know in our own organisation we have some additional special leave, it might be called something different in different organisations, that our casuals are also eligible for if they need that additional leave as a result from being sick from vaccination.

So I really encourage people to check in with your own organisation because I think you’ll find that a lot of orgs are supportive in various ways.

 

Alison:

Thanks Barb. So yes just reiterating that do ask your employer about what supports might be available to you, to encourage you and support you in getting the vaccine.

Chris, I’m going to come back to you now, and the question is, I work in a supported independent living house, but we haven’t heard anything about when someone will come and vaccinate us and our clients.

Can you talk about the roll out and the notification?

 

Chris:

Thanks Alison, as people would be aware that this is what my role here is at the moment, is the vaccination strategy for Phase 1a, which is about residents living in two plus in a congregate setting and disability workers.

So we know there was a delay with the roll out in terms of aged care work force and participants or residents first, and now we’re starting to ramp up significantly in the disability space.

We have a number of commercial vaccination providers that are currently doing their roll out. This schedule is being aligned at the moment, and as we get that settled we’ll be able to share that with how that will occur.

But hopefully now people are hearing within their sector, and within the states and territories, when a vaccination provider will be coming to the disability residence, noting that the in-reach vaccination is Pfizer, and noting of course that you’re not confined to waiting until someone comes into the residential setting to be vaccinated.

You have many options that is either going to your GP, or to the state and territory hubs, or to some Commonwealth vaccination sites, and also particularly in New South Wales, Sydney at the moment there are hubs called Sonic, which is specifically for resi aged care workers and disability support workers.

 

 

Alison:

So Chris, sorry I’ll just come back to you for a moment.

If people on the call are interested to know where disability workers can access the vaccine, is it best that they go and look through the eligibility tracker, or to the Department of Health’s website so help them navigate where best they may access the vaccine?

 

Chris:

Thanks Alison, and it’s a good question.

So yes, I would go through the eligibility checker that lets you know where you sit in the phasing of course to get your vaccination.

And of course always talk to your organisation that your employed by on those opportunities.

You know, the question is to ask, and your admin and senior staff such as Barb, will, should have an understanding of when the roll out is occurring in your disability setting.

So as again, there’s many options and if you choose to stay within the resi setting, under your providers such as Life Without Barriers, they will let you know when the vaccination provider is coming.

But also, you don’t need to wait if you don’t want to wait, you have those other options, and go through the eligibility checker to make the opportunity, the most of those opportunities.

 

Alison:

Thanks Chris.

So I can see on the chat someone has asked about the eligibility.

So if you go to health.gov.au which is the Commonwealth Department of Health website.

So if you just put health.gov.au it will take you to the vaccine page and on that vaccine page, you click on the eligibility checker, and it asks you a series of questions, and it will help guide you through where you are.

But if you are a disability support worker, you are a priority worker, and so you can actually access the vaccine now.

And that eligibility checker will also help you know how you might go ahead and book your appointments, where you might get an appointment because you may go through the state-based vaccination hub, you can go through your GP, there are GP respiratory clinics, in some states and territories there are special services directed at disability support workers.

So there are lots and lots of options for you.

So if you go again to health.gov.au that means that wherever you are in the country it will help guide you to where you can access that vaccine.

Is that right Chris?

 

Chris:

Correct.

And Alison I might just answer a couple of questions there, and the question is, is Aspen doing in-reach vaccination?

There is Aspen and Healthcare Australia doing those in-reach vaccinations.

Are we still planning to send in-reach teams?

Yes, where a participant who's unable to exit their residential setting, then these providers will go in and provide those vaccinations.

And to disability workers if they're there.

But also in terms of trying to get, as quick as access to vaccinations as possible.

We're working with our larger providers, disability providers, to set up hub type arrangements on their sites, to enable participants that can exit their homes and access the hub, and same with the disability workers.

So again your employers or the disability providers will inform you of those opportunities and options.

Thank you.

 

Alison:

Thanks Chris.

Again, can I just remind everyone to please keep yourselves on mute.

Thank you.

Barb I’m going to come to you now.

This is an interesting question, and I’m sure quite challenging.

So the question is, what if my client refuses to get the vaccine, can I say I’m not prepared to support them?

 

Barb:

Yeah, thanks Alison for probably the trickiest question in town.

Look, it’s been a little while since the NDIS commission, which is the regulator for disability providers, has said anything publicly about this.

But a couple of months ago, they made it fairly clear that their view at the time was that it’s potentially a breach of the code of conduct for disability support workers if people were to refuse to go and work with a client who’s not been vaccinated.

I actually think what we really want is people to voluntarily be vaccinated, and I think to be honest it may be a little bit of time before something like that is  really tested.

I think it’s early days in our vaccination roll out in Australia in terms of the number of people vaccinated.

We haven’t come up against anything like that in our organisation as yet. But I think it is important for people to be aware that the expectation of providers and support workers is that they will continue to provide support to people with a disability as they've always done.

So, you know, it's probably not as black or white an answer as people might like, but I do think it's still a little slightly bit of a grey area.

So hopefully that covers it though.

 

Alison:

Thanks Barb, and I think I would also add that of course the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated.

Of which all of you are eligible to get vaccinated.

Also of course remember, that you still need to take all those COVIDSafe approaches that we've been doing now for more than 18 months.

So you still, it doesn’t mean that you can stop doing those things, it still means that if you've got any symptoms at all you need to get tested, the hand hygiene, the cough etiquette, that all of those things that have become normal in our daily lives, we all still need to keep doing those.

But the best way to protect you and your family is to get vaccinated.

Sam I'm going to come to you because you've got such great experience.

So Sam, have you got any tips about talking to the clients about getting vaccinated?

 

Sam:

Thanks Alison. I think it’s just with everything else, is that you give them as much information as you’ve got. And with most organisations they’ll have Easy Read documents for people that don’t, that need that more extra assistance.

But I think it's just giving them as much information as we've got to give them, and speak to all the families and, and the clients to make that decision for them.

 

Alison:

Thanks Sam. Do you think that at times you might have to revisit the information on a number of occasions just to reinforce that?

 

Sam:

Definitely.

Definitely, and I think that’s with anyone.

I have to read the information quite a few times before I made a decision to get vaccinated, because I have a, just on a personal note, I have an autoimmune disease which compromises my immune system.

So I was very hesitant.

Sorry I was on mute then. I got it done and no side effects in that. So it’s definitely revisiting that information, and giving them the most updated information.

 

Alison:

Thanks for that Sam. And again ,I’m sorry Sam, can I ask all participants please to

mute.

We can hear an awful lot of background sounds and discussions.

That's great thank you.

Okay, if I can remind you that you can put your questions in the chat. It's the little bubble at the bottom right hand side of the screen that you're on where you can put questions.

So I’m just going through some of these questions because they're all popping in.

I'm going to come to Chris again. Chris, the question is, as a disability provider how do we arrange a hub visit?

 

Chris:

So thanks Alison. I think we’ve got to be very clear about when we’re talking

about the hub sites.

I think now we've got so many hubs that's becoming confusing on its own.

So when we're talking about this specific phasing 1a, which is about disability support workers and participants, and we're talking about hubs, these are where our vaccination providers are doing an in-reach.

And I’m going to use Life Without Barriers all the time, sorry Barb, just because you’re on the screen and talking here.

So the vaccination provider will work with Barb and her team on setting up a hub type arrangement, wherever Barb decides that’s the appropriate place and meets clinical requirements.

And then there's a coordination amongst those settings, residential settings, for people to make an access into that hub alongside with the disability workers.

If people can't exit their house for whatever reason that may be either due to behaviours or physical mobility reasons, then the vaccination provider will have a team that goes into that person and the workers that they're supporting them at the same time.

Again, so that's specifically for disability Phase 1a.

Now the workers also have the option, as do the individuals if they choose to, is that are those other arrangements we spoke about before which are the state hubs and the other commercial and Commonwealth vaccination centres.

But in-reach specifically with our disability providers like Life Without Barriers and various other providers, we will have some site hub arrangements then for doing in-reach and support locally.

 

Alison:

Thanks Chris.

Nick, I'm going to come to you with this question.

Is the vaccine the only measure to prevent COVID virus? If so, why is it that people who've had the vaccine still contract, can still catch the virus? What are your thoughts on this?

 

Nick:

Yeah well, as we know with all vaccines they’re not a hundred percent effective. So there’s going to be some people who’ll get the vaccine that will get the infection.

What we do know about these vaccines is that they prevent you getting serious disease, and admission to hospital.

And that’s very, that’s what we're a key trying to do.

And as Alison said in this introduction, there’s increasing evidence about transmission and limiting transmission. So it's expected that some people will get infection, but it's also known that the likely chances of them going in being admitted to hospital, or getting seriously ill are much less.

So it is actually doing, even though you hear these cases, the vaccine is doing its job.

And actually doing it very, very well accordingto the data that's available to us.

Thanks Alison.

 

Alison:

Thanks Nick.

I'll probably come to Barb for this one. Can you comment on clients and or their families refusing worker support unless the worker is vaccinated?

So Barb, I’ll come to you first, and then to Sam.

 

Barb:

To be honest our own experience at this point, we haven’t had that experience. We’ve had a couple of very early on family members asking about well, the what-if situation.

But to this stage we’ve had no experience with that particular scenario. So it’s a bit of a hypothetical at this point.

I think what we would do, if it were to happen, is talk to people about you know other types of controls, providing information, making sure that people are as well informed as possible before they make any kind of you know fairly dramatic decision.

Because people's continuity of care is really important as well.

So I think that would be the approach we would take.

 

Alison:

Sam.

 

Sam:

Thanks Alison, I would have to agree with Barb.

I’ve never come across that the families have refused workers or anything like that.

So I guess you can’t really know until we get that sort of situation or stuff like that before we can tackle it I guess.

 

Alison:

Yeah I agree Sam. I think both, it’s a situation where you really need to take a very calm and considered approach.

Talk through with the client, or family about what are their concerns, and what are all of the things that you’re doing to make sure you protect their health and well-being, and try to work and understand their concerns and perhaps work through them, is the way to go.

Because you’re right, you know, we don’t want to see people not receiving services, but on the other hand of course, it’s an individual's choice if they choose to get vaccinated or not.

Okay, Chris I’m going to come back to you again.

Does the Department of Health have a timeframe for when Aspen Medical or HCA will be on site for supported independent living?

 

Chris:

Thanks Al, I think I’ve just answered it in the chat there.

As I said before I appreciate again that the time frames on vaccinating this group were delayed, and that was a, you know a vaccination workforce is a limited workforce and was being spread as best it could be across all vulnerable cohorts.

Aspen and HCA are ramping up significantly now and making in-reach to numbers of disability providers booking in their time frames for SIL vaccinations.

So if you haven’t heard, you will do soon.

As I said before endeavour to put a timeframe of scheduling out that people will understand when these providers, when Aspen or HCA, are coming through but that the numbers are going up quite a bit in terms of disability workforce, and people with a disability in SIL settings.

 

Alison:

Thanks Chris, I'm trying to juggle through between two screens here.

So I think some of the question is, do we contact Aspen, HCA? Your disability provider, the disability provider, will let you know when Aspen and HCA are coming.

 

Alison:

So wait to hear, be ready, but wait to hear is the advice I guess I’m hearing, Chris.

 

Chris:

Yeah and correct. And also encourage you to make sure you have your consents organised before that. Both with the participants in the in the settings and yourselves.

 

Alison:

And where can that consent information be obtained, Chris?

 

Chris:

Thank you so much. Our experience today is most of the disability providers have arranged for their consents to be completed.

But if people are seeking a form, there is a form on the Department of Health website that can help with that consent process.

You're not required to use that specific consent form. It's just an option to use if there's no other participants, families, or guardians, or nominees have already provided them with a consent form that is relevant to the vaccination.

 

Alison:

Thanks Chris. I think the team have put on the chat also an email address where if you have any questions you can email questions in.

So if you go and look, participants if you go and look at that chat, you’ll find that email address that you can utilise for queries and questions.

 

Barb:

Alison, its Barb. Could I just add one comment to what Chris just said that I think is really important.

Depending on what state in Australia you’re in, for clients who need some support with decision making, things vary quite significantly from one state to another.

So it is really important that you do work with your own provider for some support to make sure you’ve got the correct documentation and decision making in place because it varies quite a lot in terms of the powers of the decision makers from, for example, from South Australia to the Northern Territory it’s significantly different.

So it's really important that you do that pre-work as I call it, to make sure that all that's in place, because the last thing you'd want is to get to vaccination day and not be able to be vaccinated for one of your clients.

 

Alison:

Thanks Barb, another question Chris has come in. What about people who live in their own homes?

I assume that’s people who receive support services, but receive them in their own homes.

 

Chris:

Good question Alison, and it's one that's been asked many times.

So people that live in their own homes, either with family support or disability support, at the moment they're probably 1b but not the Phase 1a which is the in-reach, in the congregate setting of two plus.

So that doesn't mean they're excluded at the moment from in-reach. We are working with the disability providers if someone is an individual on their own on the same, you know, site as such.

We will work with them and the vaccination provider to do that in-reach. But family members living on their own usually can access community, will have the opportunity to do either those GP options, and that can be a GP in-reach or going to their GP or again, or to those state and commercial, Commonwealth hubs.

 

Alison:

Thanks Chris.

I think we’ve covered all of the current questions. So if you’ve got questions and you’re on the webinar, now's your moment to pop something in the chat.

Remember no question is ridiculous or stupid.

Please if you’re, if you’ve got a query or something running around in your head, probably somebody else has got that same question.

 

Nick:

Alison, I was just going to pop in and just remind people that you know, go and talk to your GP or go talk to a nurse or a health professional and get good advice.

Because I think it’s easy with this stage of social media not to source really good and quality advice.

And we know that both nursing and health professionals generally are quite trusted. And so I think, it's really, that people reach out and actually discuss with the people they trust in society to make this, what is not necessarily an easy decision for them.

I just wanted to make that point.

The other thing I didn't answer in the question you asked me was, is there other ways of stopping getting COVID apart from the vaccination?

And the answer really comes in your introduction that, you know, washing your hands and doing the social distancing things, and thinking about all those things are really, really important.

There's no other way that we know that will stop you getting this awful disease.

And the other thing I guess also is that, you know, one of the advantages of not being hospitalised if you do get COVID, is that hospitalisation itself is quite, has long-term consequences for you.

You really are preventing quite a lot by getting the immunisation now and the people around you getting it.

I'll stop there, but I just thought in this space available I’d mention those things.

 

Alison:

Yes that's great thank you Nick. And I think that, I have, it has been suggested to me that there are some people who think well I’m young, I’m not young but they might be young, and therefore at less risk.

But we do know that people do contract COVID, whilst they may not have significant acute systems, and they end up in hospital, young people are definitely suffering from a phenomena called long COVID.

Which is something we're beginning to understand more about, but can cause long-term fatigue, just generally feeling very unwell and never really recover from that yucky horribleness of the virus.

A persistent cough, you know all sorts of symptoms which is known as long COVID.

So don't think that if you're in the younger age group that you're immune, because you're not. And if you do, you're not certainly not immune to COVID.

And also if you do contract it, it can have quite devastating effect on your life and I’m certainly also hearing a suggestion that people who’ve had COVID are, and are suffering from long COVID,  they’ve seen evidence of people making an improvement if they’re vaccinated.

So there are many good reasons to get vaccinated. But I think it’s important therefore that I just remind everyone that, as with everything we do in a world of health care, it comes with some inherent risk.

But we do know that particularly with the AstraZeneca vaccine, that was, there is a small and rare complication this, this blood clot phenomena or TTS. But it is incredibly rare and if we pick it up early we're seeing really great survival.

But you are much, much, much, more likely to die of a blood clot if you catch COVID than you ever would be if you get vaccinated against it.

And as I say, the expert group or ATAGI are continuing to look at the, educate, at the information from around the world on AstraZeneca and of course Pfizer, and they'll continue to modify their advice based on that.

But millions and millions of these vaccines are being provided across the world and you’d just have to look at the changes they're seeing in the UK and, America about them reopening their systems, and getting somewhere back to COVID normal.

Nick, I’m going to come to you with this question.

Will those who have already been vaccinated need to have a booster at some stage?

 

Nick:

Well if they’ve had the other two of either AstraZeneca or Pfizer, it’s very likely that down the track we are going to need a booster.

And somebody, so that hasn’t been defined yet by the TGA and the ATAGI, but that’s almost certainly on the cards down the track and various people are hypothesizing when, but let's not do that.

So yeah, I think that’s a real reality.

And the other question Alison there is about people over 50’s and a medical history of DVTs.

Now, I’m not an expert on vaccine but DVTs are usually for a whole lot of different reasons than the TTS syndrome.

They're seeing with the syndrome, we're seeing really with AstraZeneca, they're completely different process.

The vaccine-induced TTS syndrome is an immune reaction, which deep vein thrombosis are not.

But there is criteria written on the website about if you’ve had past clots.

I’m not, I can’t, they’re not front of mind for me, but you can check.

The other person you really should be talking to is your healthcare provider, and looking at that closely.

I won’t make any further comments about it, because I think the information is available in more detail than I can recall.

 

Alison:

We’ve started a flurry of questions now Nick.

So, there’s a really good one, and I hear this one a lot.

Seeing this vaccine is a new vaccine, what is the long term effect on fertility?

 

Nick:

One of the challenges is that we can’t tell you the long term effects is the truth. As is true of many things in life I’m afraid.

So we don’t know the long term effects on fertility, and that will emerge over time.

I’m unaware of any other vaccine causing any evidence that of course anything to do with infertility over time.

So how reassuring that is, I don’t know. But I think, well, we've got to be frank and clear where these are, as Alison said, these are risk choices.

But the risk of getting COVID and becoming ill is quite substantial. And I think one would have to say sitting in Australia it feels like we're in a, you know, we're in a very good situation.

So we’ve not seen, we're not having relatives and friends die. And that's not the case overseas.

 

Alison:

Thanks Nick, I'm going to take, I'll take this question.

But I might come to the panel members as well, because this is a tricky one.

Do we know what the thinking is behind not making the vaccination mandatory for support workers? Does the panel consider mandating to be an advantage?

Okay so firstly I’m a member of the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee, and this question continuously comes up and will continue to be debated at AHPPC.

In the long term, it may be, maybe, that will further consideration about mandating the vaccine.

But the view is that until we can make sure that everyone has had access to making that choice about the vaccine as we're rolling out the program, at this point in time, it's not proportionate to mandate the vaccine.

As we learn and understand and grow the background, we might, it may be that there'll be a point in time where that might be so.

There are some occasions already where some of the jurisdictions have chosen to mandate the vaccine, such as people working in hotel quarantine.

So in Western Australia, if you work in hotel quarantine you do need to be vaccinated.

So there may be some places and some decisions made that are different to the national decision making.

But at the moment there is discussion around, and there are discussions with industrial bodies and ethical bodies, and human rights groups and all sorts of different people to bring together a collective view.

Right now we are strongly recommending that everyone who's eligible makes a decision to get vaccinated, and obviously disability support workers are eligible to get vaccinated.

So we're strongly recommending that they do so.

But perhaps Barb, have you got a, I realise that I’m asking for a view on mandating, but I think that it’s a question asked of us all.

 

Barb:

Look, I think that it’s the right strategy at the moment to give everyone an opportunity.

This is my personal view, I guess, to give everyone an opportunity to encourage it.

I think in Australia, we‘re reluctant to mandate things unless there’s a really significant rationale for doing so.

In due course, sorry, it may become necessary in some frontline sectors like residential aged care workers, and disability if the uptake is relatively poor and there's a high level of hesitancy.

I could see that that may be a health measure that's required, a public health measure. But I think time will tell, and at this point I think the strategy is right to encourage and inform, and have a voluntary basis.

 

Alison:

Thanks Barb. Sam or Chris if you have anything you’d like to add to the discussion.

 

Chris:

It’s Chris here. You’re right, it is a dilemma isn’t it.

It’s like the show questions and answers.

It’s a debatable question of people having their different views.

So I think we can only lean in to the experts that guide us, and as we know states and territories have public health orders which they enact at various times and they have done over this experience.

So I think it’s always best where you start from a place of voluntary, and then be guided on where you need to go next, on how people are evolving or acting in this space.

Thanks.

 

Alison:

Nick, I’m going to come to you with this. Can you have a dose of AstraZeneca and then a dose of Pfizer?

 

Nick:

As I understand it, the answer to that is no at the moment.

But it’s, there’s, I know that internationally they're looking at this effect with how effective it is, and whether it was a way forward.

But the advice I think is that we can't do that at the moment, in the current situation.

But things may change as the data changes, and our understand changes.

 

Alison:

That’s correct Nick.

So the advice from the expert group, from ATAGI and TGA is not at the moment.

And so it’s the two doses of the same vaccine.

So Nick, again sorry I’m going to come to you as there are a lot of great questions coming in.

Are the vaccines effective against the new strains?

So we know we've now got these new names for the strains.

We've got Kappa and Delta and I’m sure we'll get more.

So the vaccine efficacy against the new strains.

 

Nick:

But again it’s an area where the data is emerging Alison.

It does seem that some of them actually are effective against the new strains, and depending on which strain you’re talking about, these variable levels of effectiveness.

We're relying very much on overseas data with the different strains at the moment, because we don’t have data in Australia because we, because we’ve got such slow rates.

But yes there is, but variably, and it depends on the vaccine and it depends on which strain you're talking about and the data's emerging.

So I think it's a watch this space, but it is promising from the stuff I’ve heard about this.

 

Alison:

That’s right, I think the place that most of the data is coming from which is Public Health England, that of course has got very highly reliable systems for monitoring.

And they are saying that they are seeing that these vaccines are effective against the strains.

But it may be that it’s a bit, so that, you know, we do know that these vaccines are incredibly effective against preventing severe disease and death.

What is the measure of how effective they are against the transmission of this. And again we're learning, but it doesn't mean to say that if the strains are, I mean, you know viruses do mutate, they do develop new strains, that's how they continue to replicate themselves.

The science is continuing to emerge, but right now the best protection against COVID is definitely to get vaccinated. Irrespective of what the strains may be, or may not be into the future, get vaccinated now with what we know and the signs will continue to emerge.

And it may be that in the future we'll get other access to other vaccines that will help with new strains. But right now the best protection is to get vaccinated.

I’m struggling with this question. There's a question here that I’m struggling.

I’m not sure I can, I can find it. From experience GPs don't all know about COVID vaccines and medical conditions.

I suggest I would say to the person who’s asking the question about what GPs know.

I’ll tell you what we’ve done to make sure that all health professionals who are administering the vaccine, medical, nursing, pharmacists, Aboriginal health care workers, everyone who is administering the vaccine has had to complete a mandatory training program.

A training program put together by the Commonwealth Department of Health to make, because these are new vaccines, and so everyone has needed to have an education program.

And all of the vaccine provider companies need to check that, or GPs, need to make sure that they've completed that training.

It’s a prerequisite that is something we've mandated.

So I'd suggest that GPs do know a great deal about vaccinations in general and do know information about the COVID vaccines. And they are continuing to be updated through a whole range of communication programs and education programs across the country.

Is that a fair comment, Nick, that our GPs continuously update and keep abreast of the developing research?

 

Nick:

Yeah, thanks Alison.

I’m a fellow of the college of GPs and we’re continuingly getting information in all different  forms. And the written information alerts to websites, and the information is there and available.

It's also available, ATAGI makes it available to the public, about the various aspects as well, and the Health Department does.

So they should be up to date with this, because it’s absolutely been front and centre of their mind.

And Michael Kidd for example, one of the Deputy Chief Health Officers, he does a weekly video telecast to GPs that you can join in as a member of the college GP and ask questions.

So this huge amount of resources and that's been put in place to make sure that GPs are up to date. And even if they don't know it, they can find where, find the information pretty quickly.

 

Alison:

Thanks Nick.

The next question I’m not sure I know the answer to, and I’ll put it to Barb, but if you don’t know we may have to take it offline to answer it.

The question is, if you get vaccinated and get a clot or an injury are you covered by work cover?

Yeah, I think this is a yeah. I’m not game to give a definitive answer, but, my layman’s understanding is that if you are at work, and COVID is considered an occupational disease, so I think that potentially vaccination would have a similar flow on effect.

But please, don’t take that as the absolute answer. I think it's probably one we need

to take offline Alison and double check.

 

Alison:

I agree, I understand that there a range of insurance arrangements around the vaccines, but I’m not familiar to that level of detail.

I think though, to whoever asked the question, please familiarise yourself with the information around the likelihood of an adverse event, and certainly talk to your employer about if you do get some of those minor signs and symptoms after the vaccine what support they'll provide to you so that you can be supported doing that.

But I think it will be best that we don't give legal advice on this webinar. But again thank you for asking the question even if we can't answer it.

Okay, well Barb I’m going to come to you again with this, and it has sort of been asked before, but it’s always worth re-answering questions so that we can make sure everyone understands.

If a supported independent living participant is vaccinated, are staff obliged to be vaccinated in order to provide support to that individual?

 

Barb:

Thanks Alison, I think we have answered it.

At this stage it is voluntary. Everyone's decision is their own about whether to be vaccinated or not.

So as I think we mentioned earlier, if you had people who chose not be vaccinated, and they’ve got clients who are in a SIL house, there’s a whole lot of other control measures that would still, and sorry, would continue to be in place for quite some time to come depending on the risk.

So things like we’ve just seen in Victoria, you know masks, full PPE, you know social distancing, hygiene, cleaning procedures, so there's a whole range of other controls.

So at this stage it's voluntary, no requirement.

But we would certainly have other measures still in place as well to minimise the risk.

 

Alison:

Thanks Barbara. I think I agree, again, it’s a voluntary decision.

But get the best information available to you, and have a look at health.gov.au, and have a look at the information about the vaccines and how safe they are, and about how it protects you and your family from severe disease and death but also your clients.

Okay Chris, I’m probably going to come to you with this one. Contacted many clinics near me on the health.gov.au and all the clinics have said they don't have vaccine available.

As disability worker, what should I do to get the vaccine?

 

Chris:

That’s an interesting question Alison. I guess I would be asking, that’s not what we’ve heard.

I mean, there’s supply out there as we know, so it’s a bit disconcerting if they're saying they don't have any vaccine, and are they saying they don't have supply or they're saying they won't vaccinate you as a disability worker, I guess is the question.

So either or, it would be good to know, is this in Victoria talking about specifically, and is this a request for Pfizer specifically it would be, another question.

Okay yeah, so sorry, so this would be Victoria, you're right. There was a vaccine blitz for disability support workers and resident care workers which went for just over a week which was very successful.

And I think at the moment as you would hear in the media that VIC are managing their supply of Pfizer at the moment.

So maybe that is why you're having problems getting into a clinic to be vaccinated.

If you’re, I guess I don’t have an answer to that at the moment. That will depend on how governments work through that.

But if you’re over 50 of course you still have the opportunity for AZ, and if you’re an in-reach worker, then as the vaccination providers come through they will vaccinate.

But going to the hubs and centres is something VIC Gov and Commonwealth Gov are working through at the moment.

 

Alison:

Thanks Chris.

We do ask, and we know that there are many people out there really keen to access the vaccine.

The blitz in Victoria we saw some saw a massive uptake, which is fantastic and we're trying to meet that demand. But we might have to ask you just for a little bit of patience.

This has probably got a few minutes more but I’m going to come to this question, and I’ll probably come to Barb for this.

Is there enough, if there is a high enough uptake of the vaccination in Australia will supported independent living residents still need to have house lockdowns imposed and limits on their movement imposed if there's an outbreak such as in Victoria?

 

Barb:

Wow I’m sorry, I’m not sure if that is really my question.

But I would, my view would be that there’s still, we still don’t know, although the evidence is building up, and I’m sure Nick is better able to answer this than me, about the effect on transmission of COVID.

So I think if there's an outbreak and depending on, you know, there’s kind of two different risks to manage.

One is the risk of severe disease that an individual will get very sick, and hence the vaccination will protect them.

The other is the risk of you contracting COVID through transmission in the community. So being vaccinated I guess reduces the impact of any severe disease.

Even if you were to get COVID a second, you know, get COVID after your vaccinated. So there's protections in there.

As far as from a public health measure about whether or not that will reduce the potential for lockdowns if there are outbreaks, I think that's really something that I can't really answer.

But I would imagine over time, we're seeing, we're definitely seeing it varies in every state but we're definitely seeing less interest and commitment in moving to a lockdown if we can avoid it in some states.

Other states are quicker to act in that way.

So I think time will tell, and I might just hand over in case Nick wants to add something a little bit, you know, more evidence-based than what I just said.

 

Nick:

I can't really add anything. I think it's unknown. I mean, hopefully, we can get to that stage. I guess that’s our hope that this pandemic is such that people don't get that ill and we're more comfortable with it and everybody's immunised.

Certainly it'll make, I think if we get high levels of vaccination it's going to ease up on life in a whole lot of different ways that we’ve put up with in the last 18 months, that's what you can say.

But it says, that's about as much as I could say Alison.

 

Chris:

Can I add to that Alison, just so people are clear too.

No lockdown should occur without, if it's not under a public health order.

So if you have concerns that houses are being locked down without that public health order, then that’s a notification to the national quality safeguards commission.

So, just on that houses should not be locked down unless there is a public health order to that effect.

 

Alison:

Thanks Chris. And I think it's probably a good segue for me to close off and say that as you've heard many, many say the best way for the entire world and Australia out of this pandemic is the vaccination.

So the sooner we can all get the vaccine, the greater likelihood is that we won't see border closures, we wont see lockdowns, and we’ll see our international borders reopen.

So it is our way to our future. So hopefully everyone will take the opportunity to get vaccinated, be well informed about this for the important work.

In just closing, thank you to everyone who's been on this webinar today.

We're keen to hear if it's been useful for you to do this and your feedback is most welcome.

Can I thank everyone for the incredible work that you do in supporting people with disabilities across our country in a whole range of different places and avenues.

Your work is so important and often goes not as appreciated as much as we should, express our appreciation.

And can I particularly thank Chris, Nick, Barb, and Sam. These webinars are not easy to do and talking to a screen, so thank you to our panel today for their time and their willingness to come on screen and answer the questions.

And I hope you can all have a very enjoyable rest of this Thursday, and thank you for your participation.

END

Date published: 
1 July 2021
Video type: 
Presentation
Description: 

The purpose of the meeting was to answer questions from disability support workers about the COVID-19 vaccination program. Professor (Practice) Alison McMillan, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer chaired the discussion.