More than three-quarters of Australians who were polled in a recent survey said they supported mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for aged care workers.
The survey of 1,001 Australians was conducted between 2 June and 4 June, coinciding with a decision by national cabinet to indicate an “in-principle disposition” towards compulsory vaccinations for aged care staff.
More than 50 per cent of those surveyed strongly agreed with policy of mandatory vaccinations for workers coming into contact with vulnerable Australians. A further 27 per cent agreed with the idea.
Coalition voters were most likely to support the idea – 56 per cent of Coalition voters surveyed strongly agreed – followed by Labor voters (53 per cent), Greens voters (41 per cent) and Independent voters (38 per cent).
More One Nation voters agreed to the idea (43 per cent) than disagreed with the idea (38 per cent).
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday said that a final decision on adopting mandatory vaccinations for aged care workers would depend on the medical advice provided by a panel of health experts.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said the risk of workers leaving the industry due to the policy needed to be minimised.
“We want people to come forward and volunteer to be explained what the issues are and ensure we are really focusing on our culturally and linguistically diverse workforce that are often working in these particular settings, makings sure they have the full truth and understanding of the vaccine,” he said on Friday.
The aged care sector will now be required to report the level of vaccinations completed in the workforce from 15 June.
It comes after the federal government officials told Senate estimates last week that did not know the precise number of fully vaccinated aged care workers, but believed the figure was at least 31,000 – or about nine per cent of Australia’s 360,000 aged care workers.
The executive director of the Australia Institute, Ben Oquist, said the research was nationally representative across gender, age and regional – with a three per cent margin of statistical error.
“Any public health response should be informed by medical advice, not popularity. However, this research shows the National Cabinet has the public on its side in exploring mandatory vaccination for aged care workers.
“Aged care workers confront some of the lowest paid and insecure work in the country — often forced to work excessive hours. With no current paid leave entitlement for such workers to get vaccinated, there will need to be much stronger government intervention to get the rollout to work.”
The national association for providers of aged care services said on-site vaccination of staff needs to happen quickly.
“We are all facing the same risks and we want our leaders to focus with us on how we can continue to support providers and their staff to provide care for residents compassionately and in a safe way,” Leading Age Services Australia spokesperson Sean Rooney said.
The state governments in Queensland and Victoria have announced measures to fast-track vaccinations for aged care workers, including priority access at mass clinics.
The United Workers Union said the vaccine rollout needed to be properly managed to ensure aged care workers were not putting themselves and their clients at risk.
“The vaccination program has almost completely failed to reach aged care workers, and has largely left them to get vaccinated on their own time,” said United Workers Union aged care director Carolyn Smith.
“It’s devastating to think that the very real possibility of a COVID-19 breakout entering aged care facilities still hangs over older Australians and aged care workers due to the failed vaccine rollout program.”
In Victoria’s latest COVID-19 outbreak, two aged care workers have tested positive for coronavirus.
Around 96 per cent of the COVID-19 deaths relating to aged care residents happened in Victoria – 655 out of a national total of 685. This number accounts for 75 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Australia.
There have been 223 outbreaks in Australia’s residential aged care facilities.