National cabinet opens up AstraZeneca eligibility, mandates jab for aged care staff

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday June 29, 2021

The PM announced major changes to Australia’s vaccination rollout and quarantine system following a late-night national cabinet meeting. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Eligibility for the AstraZeneca vaccine has been opened up to anyone under the age of 40, while provisions for the mandatory vaccination of aged care workers have been put in place.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday announced major changes to Australia’s vaccination rollout and quarantine system, following a late-night national cabinet meeting.

One new measure is the establishment of a COVID-19 professional indemnity scheme to ‘provide additional certainty’ to general practitioners who give advice to people in relation to COVID-19 vaccination.

“National cabinet noted that GPs can continue to administer AstraZeneca to Australians under 60 years of age with informed consent and that this measure will provide confidence to medical practitioners to administer both AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines to Australians,” Morrison said in a statement.

During a press conference, Morrison confirmed that this meant Australians under 40 who want to get the AstraZeneca jab can do so after speaking to their GP.

While the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has advised that AstraZeneca be the preferred vaccine for those over 60, Morrison said the advice ‘does not preclude persons under 60 from getting the AstraZeneca vaccine’.

“And so if you wish to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, then we would encourage you to go and have that discussion with your GP and we’ve already made announcements to support those additional consultations with the GPs so you can have that conversation,” he said.

The Pfizer vaccine is currently recommended for Australians aged 16 to 59.

Read more: Age raised for AstraZeneca following ATAGI advice

The prime minister also revealed that all residential aged care workers will be required to have their first vaccine dose by mid-September.

“The national cabinet agreed that COVID-19 vaccinations are to be mandated for residential aged care workers as a condition of working in an aged care facility through shared state, territory and commonwealth authorities and compliance measures,” he said.

An $11 million employee vaccination support grant will be established to enable these workers to attend off-site vaccination centres and GPs. The grant will pay residential aged care facilities that are eligible under the following categories:

  • Casual staff going off-site for vaccination — a flat fee of $80 payable per staff member, per dose;
  • Paid leave for casual staff who become unwell after vaccination and don’t have other leave entitlements — one day’s paid leave (at a rate of $185) for up to a quarter of the provider’s total number of casual staff;
  • Facilitation of off-site vaccination for employees — up to $500 per site in flexible vaccination facilitation costs per site. This can be used for activities like transport services, arranging groups of staff to be vaccinated, or other ‘reasonable expenses’ that incentivise staff to get vaccinated.

In light of the new requirements, the Health Services Union has called for the government to grant aged care workers the ‘ironclad’ right to paid leave.

“This is a workforce of insecure, underemployed women who often stitch together several casual jobs to make a living. They are leaving in droves,” union national president Gerard Hayes said.

“Providing money to employers to possibly encourage workers to get vaccinated is not good enough. This policy has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese. Workers, including casuals, need an ironclad right to paid leave to get vaccinated and recover.”

The AHPPC will continue to consider the mandating of vaccination for aged care workers ‘to ensure we do not encounter any unintended consequences as an outcome of this decision’, Morrison said.

Read more: AHPPC to advise national cabinet on mandatory vaccine scheme for aged care staff

National cabinet has also agreed to changes to Australia’s quarantine arrangements, including accommodating high-infectious-risk quarantine residents separately from lower-risk residents; testing travellers once they leave quarantine; and mandating vaccinations and testing for quarantine workers, including those involved in transportation.

All quarantine workers and their household contacts will now be eligible for vaccination.

National cabinet has also sought advice from the AHPPC on vaccinations for aviation, interstate freight transport and mining (FIFO) workers.

Around 7.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Australia, with 28.6% of the population aged 16 and over having had at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Morrison said.

Echoing comments made by Opposition leader Anthony Albanese on Monday, the prime minister used a New South Wales example to demonstrate that COVID-19 vaccinations reduce transmission.

“National cabinet noted that in a recent exposure event in NSW, of the 30 people that were at the event, 24 unvaccinated people have now tested positive for COVID, but six vaccinated people who attended the event have not been infected at this stage with the COVID-19 virus,” Morrison said.

There are currently more than 270 active COVID-19 cases in Australia.

National cabinet will meet again on Friday, July 2.

Read more: Greater Sydney goes into lockdown as state and territory governments scramble to keep virus spread at bay


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