Nearly 100 aged care facilities record Covid vaccination rates below 10%


With more than 450 active outbreaks at last count, experts say 'disappointingly low' coverage is putting already vulnerable people at further risk.

An elderly patient getting vaccinated.
As of 20 June there have been more than 3700 COVID-19 cases across 453 active outbreaks in RACFs.

Recently released data shows that despite the vulnerability of their patients, 97 residential aged care facilities (RACFs) across Australia have COVID-19 vaccination rates of less than 10%.

The severe shortage has prompted health officials to urge providers to increase vaccination rates because they say it’s putting the lives of their patients and communities at risk.

According to new data from the Department of Health and Aged Care (DoHAC), 97 of the 2609 RACFs had less than 10% coverage, 73 had 10-20% coverage, and 126 had coverage between 20-30%.

Overall, 706 facilities reported that less than 50% of their residents are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Of the areas with the worst coverage, 37 are in New South Wales, 17 in Queensland, eight in South Australia, one in Tasmania, 26 in Victoria and eight in Western Australia.

At the other end of the spectrum, 208 RACFs had coverage between 90–100%, and 502 were at 80–90%.

The news comes at a time when outbreaks within facilities are common, with 3737 active COVID-19 cases reported in 453 active outbreaks in homes across Australia as of June 20.

One hundred sixty new outbreaks, 59 new resident deaths, and 3,606 combined new resident and staff cases have been reported since June 13th.

Additionally, 2.2% of all deaths of permanent residents in aged care homes so far this year have been attributed to COVID-19.

Since the start of the Omicron outbreak in mid-December 2021, 149,194 deaths from all causes have been recorded in residential aged care, and COVID-19 deaths account for 3.9% of these.

Dr Anthony Marinucci, Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Aged Care, said, NewsGP Ensuring high rates of population vaccination in primary care remains a major challenge.

He said, 'Vaccination for Covid-19 has many benefits, including protection against severe disease and death, and reducing the prevalence of symptoms associated with long-term Covid.'

,[It also] This protects people who cannot be vaccinated due to medical conditions, and slows the spread of the virus, which is particularly important in aged care settings.

'If the trend of declining vaccinations continues, all of these factors could become more prevalent.'

Nearly 139,000 residential aged care residents have received a booster dose since January 1, 2023, 74,300 have received a booster dose in the past six months, and 3300 received a vaccine dose last week.

These rates are lowest in the Northern Territory, where only 22% of residents have been vaccinated, followed by 36% in Western Australia and 38% in New South Wales.

The low coverage comes despite multiple appeals from Australia's top health officials, who issued stern warnings to providers to keep their residents safe from COVID-19.

In a letter written last month by Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly and Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson, the two urged RACFs to ensure their residents were vaccinated before winter.

“Vaccination rates in residential aged care facilities remain disappointingly low,” he said.

'The evidence is compelling that older age is at greatest risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, and it is now well understood that people living in residential aged care facilities are particularly vulnerable.

'Thorough preparation and continued vigilance are vital to managing the risk of COVID-19 in aged care settings, and aged care provider boards and leadership teams have clear accountability and responsibility for ensuring this happens.'

According to the letter, COVID-19 vaccines may reduce the risk of hospitalization by 71-77%, and the risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit by 73%.

COVID-19 vaccination is free and is recommended every year for patients aged 65 years and above, and every six months for people aged 75 years and above, as well as free of charge for severely immunocompromised adults.

But Dr. Marinucci said vaccine refusal and fatigue are not a new phenomenon and are not limited to just COVID-19.

“In general, I have seen a slight increase in people refusing the vaccine, but that's certainly not a trend in my patient group,” he said.

'There may be many reasons for vaccination fatigue, but in general, effective, empathetic and regular vaccination communication is the most important way we can keep our vulnerable populations, such as people living in RACFs, adequately protected from infectious diseases.'

The Department of Health and Aged Care did not respond to questions about low vaccination rates, but reiterated in a previous statement that vaccination is the best way to protect older people.

“COVID-19 and influenza cases are increasing in residential aged care homes, with vaccination rates low,” it said.

'Aged care providers have a responsibility to make vaccines easily accessible to people living in aged care.'

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