The Guardian Australia
Some South Australian aged care workers denied second Pfizer Covid vaccine shot
A group of aged care workers in South Australia have been left in “vaccine limbo” after being denied a second Pfizer dose and told to get it from general practitioners, who only have the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Aged care workers are part of the highest-priority cohort for vaccination, and some have been given leftover Pfizer jabs from federal in-reach teams visiting aged care facilities to vaccinate residents.
One group of about 20 aged care staff, who work across two Southern Cross Care facilities in South Australia, received their first Pfizer jab, but are now being told they can’t be given a second dose, which optimally needs to be administered within three weeks of the first.
They have been given confusing and conflicting advice about what to do next by those responsible for the aged care vaccine rollout, which is being run by four private contractors on behalf of the federal government.
Some have been told to go to GPs for their second dose.
GPs only stock the AstraZeneca vaccine, which cannot be substituted for the entirely different Pfizer jab.
Others have been told to go to the “Pfizer hub”, without any clarity on what that means.
“I got in touch with SA Health and they said to me that the employer needs to provide me a link via email so I can book into the [Royal Adelaide Hospital],” one worker said. “Manager said they haven’t been told about that.”
The United Workers Union, which represents the workers, said some were told to wait up to 12 months until inreach teams came back to their Southern Cross Care facilities.
The union’s aged care director, Carolyn Smith, said the 20 workers have been left in “vaccine limbo”.
“It’s very confusing for the workers, but it’s also deeply concerning and really sends a message yet again to aged care workers that they don’t matter, that they’re at the back of the queue,” she told Guardian Australia.
“The federal government is rolling out vaccinations … it’s really just a mess of quite outrageous proportions.”
A spokesman for Southern Cross Care (SA, NT and Victoria) said it has now approached SA Health and the federal government to organise dedicated clinics for staff to receive second doses. Those clinics are expected to occur this month.
The federal government has repeatedly said that it is keeping reserves of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines for second doses.
Annie Butler, the federal secretary for the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, said she had also heard reports of confusion about aged care workers receiving their second doses.
“We’ve been hearing from workers that they’re getting a first dose, then they’re not sure what the next dose will be. But we know that they have to get the second dose of the same vaccine,” she told the Guardian.
“We’ve heard that particularly in South Australia, but in pockets across the country. So what we would say is there is a lot of problem with logistics and the resources that they’ve put into the rollout.”
On Thursday, the Age reported that aged care staff in Melbourne’s east were being turned away from receiving their second dose because there was no record in the Australian Immunisation Register of them receiving their first shot.
Asked about that report, health minister Greg Hunt said the government had immediately taken steps to respond.
“There was one report that we’ve had of one facility where there was some additional dosage required. We’ve taken steps to make sure that that will be made available to the workers,” he said.
“And that’s one of the things we do. Every day in a rollout of this size, there are reports and actions that are taken to immediately respond.”
The concerns about the aged care rollout are not isolated to Victoria and South Australia. In Ballina in New South Wales, aged care worker Jennifer desChamps told the ABC on Thursday morning that no staff or residents at her facility had yet been vaccinated.
“We would just like to know when, but we do feel a bit frustrated when we got given a date, then that gets cancelled, then we got given another date, then that gets cancelled, then you’re walking around in a limbo,” she said.
Aged care workers are considered critical in stopping transmission into aged care facilities.
But so far the government has not given any specific data on the number of aged care workers that have received the jab.
The data it has provided shows the broader aged care rollout is well behind schedule. The government had initially hoped to have all of phase 1a completed within six weeks, including the 190,000 aged care residents.
It vaccinated only about 120,000 within that six-week timeframe.
The government says it is continuing to receive shipments of between 110,000 and 150,000 Pfizer jabs per week from abroad, and has about 870,000 of the 20m it ordered.