FREE choice is one thing but when it’s one cohort putting another at risk, by their reluctance to get vaccinated, it needs to be called out.

And that’s exactly what the Victorian COVID-19 Commander, Jeroen Weimar, did at the State Government’s coronavirus update on Saturday, August 28.

He said other groups within the community, including younger ages, had been held back from getting access to the limited vaccination supplies just so groups like aged care staff could get priority.

But, in many cases, they hadn’t taken up the opportunity, despite being eligible since February this year, as part of the 1a priority group.

Mr Weimar expressed alarm that only 56 per cent of the 182 staff members at Wharparilla Aged Care Lodge in Echuca had received “at least one dose” of vaccine, including the one staff member, connected to the Shepparton cluster, who tested positive, and then negative at the weekend.

That person had thankfully been fully vaccinated and Mr Weimar noted that her low viral load could have stopped others in the centre from getting infected.

Mr Weimar also indicated that while additional vaccination services were brought on site at the Echuca facility, after the positive case was notified, only “some of those vaccination appointments were taken up”.

The low vaccination rates at some aged care facilities is of great concern he said.

Asked, when the rate of vaccination among the 88 residents of that centre was 92 per cent, why the vaccination rate of staff was only 56 per cent, mostly just one dose, he said it was a real problem.

Q1. “The percentage of staff was much lower, why is that?” the journalist asked.

A1. Jeroen Weimar: “Well, this has been something we’ve obviously had concerns about for many months now. Aged care workforce has been eligible for priority vaccination for many, many months, and clearly, as a private aged care facility, it’s ultimately under the oversight of the Commonwealth. I know they’re doing all they can to encourage vaccination uptake amongst aged care residents and staff.

“We’ve run a number of vaccination booster sessions through our state clinics, including now, so all aged care workforces, anybody who works in residential aged care, anybody who works in residential disability care can walk up to our vaccination clinics, the 55 or so that we have, and get vaccinated as a priority cohort.

“We continue to be concerned that we see relatively low uptake of vaccination in private aged care facilities and we’ll do all we can to support the Commonwealth in addressing that issue.”

Q2. “That’s just 56% of first doses for staff, is that a huge failing?

A2. Oh well, it’s a huge concern. I mean, as we know from bitter experience last year, with what we saw happening in the second wave. We need our aged care facilities to be protected and we need the staff in those facilities to be vaccinated. It’s a huge cause of concern. I know the Commonwealth has commented on it, a number of times. We’re providing as much access as we can to our state clinics to get people vaccinated, but ultimately, it’s a matter for the aged care industry, so for the employers and for the staff, get yourselves organized and please come forward and get vaccinated.”

Asked about making vaccination for staff mandatory, which it will be from September 17 onwards, Mr Weimar said that was a matter for the Commonwealth.

“Our view has been, and we have provided priority access to our vaccination clinics for months, so, whilst we’ve held back many other Victorians who’ve had to hold back before they can become eligible for vaccination, all those younger people we saw rushing the gates, this week to come forward and get those bookings made for Pfizer. We’ve held all them back for a long time in order to allow priority workforces to come through. That includes the aged care workforce. We’ve done it again this week, we’ve opened up another blitz opportunity for them to come forward and get priority vaccinations. And I just implore, if you’re working in aged care now, you can get a free pass to the front of the queue, you can go straight to the velvet rope and get into the vaccination clinic and we’d encourage you please to do so.”