For a Prime Minister who’s big on announcements, Scott Morrison has been strangely quiet about the vaccine rollout amongst care workers.
This is a big worry. Aged care and disability support unions know, from their members, that very few of these workers have received even a single dose, despite their position near the top of the Government’s priority list.
If they aren’t getting the vaccines on the scale demanded, then some of Australia’s most vulnerable people will be at risk in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak in the community. As ACTU Secretary Sally McManus pointed out on the Today show this week, we’re only six weeks out from winter. Last winter, 678 elderly Australians died from coronavirus, and so did one disability support worker.
But the Government is keeping us dark on the precise numbers who have been vaccinated. What aren’t they telling us?
Australian Unions are calling on the Morrison Government to admit what’s now obvious to workers and the wider public: its vaccine rollout has failed.
“The Government needs to admit it has failed and ask for help. The vaccine rollout cannot be delayed by a Federal Government trying to save face,” ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien said this week.
“We need transparency on the number of vaccines being administered to workers and the process by which they are being distributed, and we need the Morrison Government to seek help managing this task”.
This means clarity about arrangements for the vaccine rollout by private providers and seeking help from the states to complete the rollout.
“Protecting the health of our society is the most basic duty of any Government. If the Morrison Government is unable to manage this rollout themselves, then they should seek help from state bodies who have been administering tens of thousands of tests per day for months,” O’Brien said.
Workers, unions, and the community are right to be concerned about the Government’s delays, evasions, and obfuscations. Its shocking track record of failures in aged care gives us no reason for confidence about its commitment, and its competence in administering the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Three quarters of Australian deaths from Covid-19 have occurred in aged care facilities, and the overwhelming majority of them in the private care homes that are the direct policy responsibility of the Federal Government. The Government didn’t plan for how to protect aged care residents in the early stages of the pandemic and failed to ensure adequate levels of personal protective equipment were provided to staff. Reporting in October, the Royal Commission into Aged Care described infection prevention and control in aged care facilities as “deplorable”.
In its final report, the Royal Commission excoriated decades of failure in aged care, which started with the Howard Government loosening regulations and opening the sector to privatisation and continued under Coalition Governments which have shovelled money at shonky private providers, while permitting the inadequate staffing and training, and the rampant casualisation that increased the risk of coronavirus spreading between facilities.
Australia’s disability support services are now also coming under close scrutiny. This week, Guardian Australia revealed moves within the National Disability Insurance Agency, which runs the NDIS, to slow growth in funding packages and participant numbers. Disability advocates, meanwhile, are warning that plans to introduce outsourced, government-contracted independent assessments will compromise support services, as part of another Federal Government cost-cutting exercise.
If the Federal Government wants to rebuild confidence in its vaccine strategy in aged care and disability support, it needs to answer some serious questions.
How many aged care and disability support workers have received their Covid-19 vaccinations?
What’s the plan for the rollout strategy, especially now there are doubts about Australia’s reliance on only two vaccines, and with the recent announcement of changed advice on AstraZeneca?
What have private providers committed to, how is the Federal Government holding them to account, and how much are they being paid?
And it needs to ask for help from the states. You can sign Australian Unions’ petition calling on the Government to fix the vaccine rollout here.