Up to 30% of residents in some aged care homes have not taken up a Covid-19 vaccination, according to new data that has prompted an investigation into the high rates of non-uptake.
Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates said the most recent data shared with stakeholders was collated last week and showed most homes reported a refusal rate of between 5% and 15%.
The data does not reveal why residents had declined the vaccine, but Yates said doctors would not have recommended it for a significant number due to underlying health conditions.
The federal government was now focusing on homes with the highest levels of non-uptake to uncover why so many residents had chosen not to get vaccinated against Covid-19, he said.
“I think there are a number of factors, and vaccine hesitancy also varies across different communities,” Yates said.
“I think there are different providers who have different levels of engagement with their residents. The communication skills from these providers varies enormously and that plays a large role in how well they’re actually able to prepare them for the vaccine and its benefits.
“If there are managers and providers that do not usually have strong interaction with the residents of the home, then suddenly they are telling everyone to line up for vaccinations, that might not be so well received.”
Guardian Australia has contacted the federal Department of Health for comment.
Some families believe the flawed delivery of the vaccine rollout has contributed to the poor uptake.
Martine La Fontaine, of Melbourne, said her mother had a torrid time waiting for the federal government to deliver vaccines to her facility in Footscray. The facility had a Covid-19 case last year, but was told in April, two months after the rollout began, that it would not receive vaccines until late May.
The delay was so long that La Fontaine took her mother to a general practitioner to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, rather than waiting for the commonwealth’s in-reach team to show up.
She told the Guardian the statistics on uptake in aged care facilities could be explained by the difficulties in communicating with residents’ power of attorneys and the consent process.
“I think a lot of that is to do with medical power of attorneys and the communication with medical power of attorneys, and the consent, the taking up of consent,” she said. “It’s left up to individual businesses, that are described as not-for-profit, following it up and chasing stuff down… so I think it’s probably more likely about how it’s been delivered.”
Yates said during meetings last week with stakeholders, including the Department of Health, he had been told that most homes fell in the 5-15% range in terms of the proportion of residents who had been offered a vaccination but had not received one.
“It’s the outliers that have rates of 30% and the department said they are now going back to those homes to find out why,” he said.
“I am not too concerned about most of the homes, because as long as about 85-to-90% of residents are vaccinated then there will be a high level of protection. I am more concerned about making sure all aged care staff get vaccinated now. There should only be very low numbers of staff who can not get vaccinated for medical reasons.
“They are working with the most vulnerable people and it must be compulsory for them to be vaccinated. Last year we had compulsory flu vaccination in every state and territory for aged care and we almost eliminated flu from residential aged care.”
More than three-quarters of Australians support a mandatory Covid-19 vaccine for frontline workers in aged care and other vulnerable settings, an Australia Institute survey published on Monday shows.
Infectious diseases physician and professor of medicine at the Australian National University, Peter Collignon, said it would be important to understand why there were homes with high levels of non-uptake.
“We’ve got to realise that for various reasons, some people won’t get vaccinated,” Collignon said.
“I’d like higher rates than 85% vaccination of residents, but 85% is still fairly strong and what I think we need to be striving for in every aged care home. The reality is the people who don’t get vaccinated are the ones who are most at risk of dying from Covid.
“It also can depend on management. I have heard of one nursing home where the persons in charge were really unhappy about the AstraZeneca vaccine and wanted to wait for Pfizer. So the trouble is, sometimes the reason for uptake or not in homes may be down to the staff and their views.”
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