Call for urgent vaccination of health workers after outbreak at Sydney aged care facility

Two-thirds of the staff at the Sydney aged care facility where there has been a COVID-19 outbreak remain unvaccinated, prompting calls for an urgent acceleration in the vaccine rollout for healthcare workers. 

At least three aged care residents at SummitCare Baulkham Hills, located in northwest Sydney, caught COVID-19 from an infected staff member. 

All three residents reported to be positive on Sunday were fully vaccinated against the virus, and the facility’s operator says all are currently asymptomatic and in good spirits.

The daughter of one of the residents who tested positive said her father is terrified and has not been receiving regular communications as staff have been instructed to maintain their distance.

Kathie Melocco said she completely disagreed with the facility’s view that the residents who tested positive are in ‘good spirits’.

“My father is terrified and is positive,” she wrote in a message on Twitter. “Staff have been told to not talk to residents to minimise interaction. Please remember: they are human and are frightened. Bring in social workers!”

She also urged both federal and state authorities to co-operate to ensure the speedy rollout of vaccines for health workers in aged care settings. 

“My Dad was at norwest private dialysis 3 days a week. Our health workforce must be vaccinated. Now,” she posted on Twitter. 

Under Australia’s system of federalism, the federal government has responsibility for the aged care system in the country.

SummitCare’s chief operating officer, Michelle Sloane, said two-thirds of the 200-strong staff at the facility are not vaccinated and that in the immediacy of the outbreak, arranging vaccinations now might be problematic. 

“We have made a decision with public health, they will be vaccinating on site all of our staff towards the end of this outbreak,” she said. 

“We have been advised that to do it now, is of no benefit to anyone. And if anything it might mean that they suffer from some side effects from the vaccine – and we lose more staff.”

SummitCare Baulkham Hills is in lockdown as officials work to contain the outbreak.

SBS News

She estimated that at least 70 per cent of staff have been sent into isolation. 

Australia’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Michael Kidd, said additional staff are being brought in to replace the workers in isolation.

“The facility is in full lockdown and additional workforce supports have been activated, and testing of residents and staff has also been activated,” he told reporters in Canberra. 

Ms Sloane said the facility has immediately moved to contain the outbreak. 

“All residents are in total isolation. The doors are closed. They each have individual air-conditioning units so there is no risk of any kind of contamination in that sense.

“And we have had the team from Westmead here on site and we have educators on site monitoring and working with our staff. And (we) have assured our staff that as long as everyone is sterilising their hands … there is no risk. We have a very high percentage, 96 per cent, of residents are vaccinated, so that is a good thing.”

Professor Kidd said authorities have reached “all but one of the 2566 residential aged care facilities across the country” with two vaccine doses.

But he said vaccination should be viewed as one tool in a larger toolbox of measures to prevent outbreaks in aged care facilities.

“Vaccination, of course, is just one part of the protections now in place for residents of aged care facilities,” he said.

“Every residential aged care facility in the country now has an infection prevention and control nurse and has detailed plans in place to respond to any cases of COVID-19.”

The federal government on 28 June announced a policy of mandatory vaccinations for residential aged care workers, with a deadline to vaccinate all workers in the sector with at least one vaccine dose by September.

Staff will be granted with paid leave to get vaccinated under a $11 million package from the federal government.

Federal Health Department data supplied to The Age newspaper showed that as of 25 June, two-thirds of aged care staff nationally remain unvaccinated. 

Only one-third of the workforce – 88,000 out of 263,000 – have received one vaccine dose. Sixteen per cent – 43,000 out of 263,000 – have received a second vaccine dose.

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