'Gross incompetence': The crucial question aged care minister can’t answer

·5-min read

The Federal Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Services has been criticised after admitting he did not know the exact number of aged-care staffers who had received their Covid vaccines.

Amid Victoria's latest Covid-19 outbreak, two workers at Arcare Maidstone and a 99-year-old resident have tested positive, prompting the federal government to scramble to complete vaccinations in aged-care facilities.

It has been revealed the staffer and resident, who has been taken to hospital for treatment, had received just one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Of Australia's 910 coronavirus deaths, 685 have been aged care residents.

Pictured is Aged Care Services Minister  Richard Colbeck.
Richard Colbeck told ABC Radio he does not have the data on how many aged-care workers have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Source: ABC

Speaking on the ABC's Radio National breakfast program with Fran Kelly, Federal Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Services Richard Colbeck admitted he did not have an exact number of how many aged-care workers had been vaccinated.

But he did say "about just under 40,000" aged-care workers across the country had received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine that the government was "aware of".

"Bearing in mind that we now have five channels for aged-care workers to receive vaccinations because of the advice," Senator Colbeck said.

It is advised staff and residents should not be vaccinated at the same time and only people aged over 50 years old should receive the AstraZeneca jab, he said.

He added there were several ways aged-care staff can get the vaccine: through their GP, at a state-run clinic, at Commonwealth clinic, or aged care providers can apply to run their own clinic.

Signage for Arcare Aged Care facility in Maidstone is seen, in Melbourne, Monday, May 31.
The vast majority of Covid-related deaths in Australia are linked to aged care. Source: AAP

However, he conceded and admitted the federal government did not have the exact number of how many aged-care workers had been vaccinated.

"We're asking the aged-care providers who hold the data to report that information back to us. So we at this point, don't have that consolidated," he said, adding providers were being asked to report the virus vaccination data alongside flu vaccination data.

"All of the vaccinations will actually be recorded in our vaccination systems, but it doesn't go to the level of granularity that details whereabouts you work," he added.

'You should know the answer'

Senior health bureaucrat Caroline Edwards told a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday worker vaccination numbers were under-reported.

Nationally, 153,641 out of about 183,000 aged care residents have received their first jab and 116,688 a second dose, AAP reported.

Under sustained questioning at the hearing from Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher, Senator Colbeck said nationwide 36,710 staff had received both doses.

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But officials conceded a more accurate number would not be known until at least later in the week.

"It is a critical question - you should know the answer," Senator Gallagher told the minister.

"It seems to me you have no urgency and no accountability for what's going on."

Several people on social media criticised Senator Colbeck for not answering the question, with people calling him "incompetent" and others saying they were furious.

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The Victorian government has announced all aged-care and disability workers will soon be able to jump the queue at mass vaccination centres as the state recorded three new local Covid-19 cases in its latest numbers.

Health Minister Martin Foley announced express lanes would be opened for aged-care and disability workers from Wednesday to Sunday at 10 of the state's vaccination centres.

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Minister defends federal vaccine rollout

Australia's finance minister has defended the vaccine rollout, blaming the lack of vaccinations among aged care residents and workers on a delay.

During a heated interview with ABC News on Tuesday morning, Simon Birmingham was questioned about the federal government's vaccine rollout.

"Why has the federal government failed to ensure full vaccination across aged care for residents and workers?" News Breakfast host Lisa Millar asked Senator Birmingham.

He then went on to rattle off the numbers among aged care facilities, saying 99 per cent of aged care facilities across Australia, 100 per cent in Victoria, have access to a Covid-19 vaccine.

Mr Birmingham said Australia-wide, 85 per cent of residents have opted to get vaccinated, adding older Australians who are considered to be "higher risk" have always been the priority.

Millar then pointed out it's June 1 and there are still facilities that don't have access to any dose of the vaccine and 600 facilities that haven't had their second dose.

"I do accept that it has not gone as we would have hoped to," Senator Birmingham responded. 

"We would have wished to have received the more than 3.5 million doses that were expected to come from Europe earlier in the year."

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham on ABC News Breakfast.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham has defended the federal government's vaccine rollout. Source: ABC

He also added the government did not anticipate health advice would suggest younger Australians should not get the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"But none of it is the government's fault? You're saying that it is nothing about the rollout and the plan and the process?" Millar hit back.

"Lisa, Lisa, Lisa - they're just the facts and we've had to respond to the facts," the minister said. 

"And responding to those facts, we've made sure that we still pushed on with aged care residents as the priority."

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