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Federal government changes vaccination advice in rush to protect Victorian aged care sector

  • Written by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly on Thursday changed the medical advice as the government rushed to vaccinate those Victorian aged care residents and workers who remained unprotected.

Kelly said they should receive COVID shots even if they have just had their flu jabs.

The advice previously has been for a two week interval between the flu and COVID shots.

As Victoria goes into a seven day lockdown amid escalating cases, the federal government pulled out all stops to finalise the vaccination of the aged care sector in the state.

There are 598 residential aged care facilities in Victoria. On Wednesday the government said 569 facilities had received a first dose (with 361 fully vaccinated with both doses).

It said the remaining 29 facilities would be prioritised.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Thursday all Victorian facilities would be done by Friday.

He said 582 out of 598 facilities had been vaccinated. “So that’s significantly advanced on yesterday again. Seven further today, and the remaining nine tomorrow.”

Before the acceleration, the Victorian facilities would not have been finished until next week.

In a letter to aged care providers and health professionals, Kelly said while the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation had advised the preferred interval between the flu and COVID shots was 14 days, it had also said shortening the time was justified when circumstances required.

“This includes if there is an imminent need to administer either of these vaccines because of the prevailing local epidemiological situation, for example for protection from influenza or COVID-19,” Kelly said.

In light of the Victorian situation, he strongly recommended residents and workers in residential aged care receive their COVID-19 shots “as quickly as possible”. The shortened interval would not affect the effectiveness of the two vaccines, Kelly said.

In Victoria’s COVID second wave last year the residential aged care sector was hit disastrously, with hundreds of deaths.

The Victorian Aged Care Response Centre has been stood up again.

With businesses and citizens in Victoria bracing yet again for tough restrictions, the state’s acting premier James Merlino took a shot at the slow rollout. “If we had … the Commonwealth’s vaccine program effectively rolled out, we may well not be here today.”

The lockdown applies across the state, as some 10,000 primary and secondary contacts are traced.

Among the limited purposes for which people are allowed to leave their homes is to get vaccinated, and the outbreak is spurring many people to do so.

Merlino warned the outbreak could become uncontrollable unless quickly contained.

“We’re dealing with a highly infectious strain of the virus, a variant of concern which is running faster than we have ever recorded,” he said.

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