Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt (Image/Luis Ascui)

The “Commonwealth remit” for the vaccination rollout, to use the term employed by the Department of Health, consists of four groups: aged care residents, aged care workers, disability care residents and disability care workers.

Those groups formed the bulk of what the government in its vaccination rollout strategy called “Phase 1a”. The remainder of Phase 1a consisted of quarantine and border workers, which the states and the Commonwealth jointly vaccinated, and front-line healthcare workers, which the states would vaccinate.

Those four groups in the Commonwealth remit totalled around 510,000 of the 680,000-strong Phase 1a. On February 15, Scott Morrison and Greg Hunt committed in a media release that “Phase 1a remains on track for first-round doses to be delivered within a six-week period”.

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On February 16 Hunt explained that “vaccination for residents and staff will be made available through residential aged care facilities where they live or work, and it will be administered through an in-reach workforce provider”.

Three days later, Hunt said: “Phase 1a is the three priority groups, which Professor Murphy will set out, of our aged care and disability residents and their staff, our quarantine and border workers, and our frontline health workers … over the coming six weeks, which is our rough expectation for the phase 1a program, we’ll see that, progressively around Australia, the aged care centres and the hubs will cover — we seek to address all of the aged care centres in Australia.”

He later added that “everyone will be covered over the course of six weeks”.

It’s now clear that we were lied to. There was never a plan to reach all of the people in residential disability care, who number around 50,000, or if there was a plan it has never been implemented. The majority of people in residential disability care remain unvaccinated, despite the slow rollout being a matter of public knowledge for weeks.

But there has evidently never been a plan to vaccinate aged care and disability care staff either. Only around 12% of the 318,000 aged care and disability care workforce have so far received their first shot, a full two months after the March deadline.

We know now that, contrary to Hunt’s statement, the “in-reach workforce provider” was never intended to vaccinate aged care workers: Nine journalists today reported that one of the key “providers”, Aspen Medical, had never been contracted to vaccinate aged care staff. They simply got whatever leftover shots were available after residents had received their jabs.

Both the aged care minister and Health bureaucrats are now trying to make a virtue of this by saying medical advice is that workers and residents shouldn’t be vaccinated at the same time. The problem is, nearly 90% of the aged care workforce hasn’t been vaccinated at all, two months after they — or, to be generous to the government, aged care residents — were supposed to have been vaccinated.

Hunt is trying to obscure the extent of the failure by claiming “17.3% of Commonwealth aged care workers” had received a shot (at least Hunt, unlike Scott Morrison, accepts that the Commonwealth has some kind of role in aged care) but even in that spin, more than 80% haven’t.

The lack of any plan in relation to aged care staff vaccination is also reflected in the fact that Health hadn’t, until recently, even bothered to find out from aged care providers how many staff were being vaccinated. Why would they, if there was no plan to vaccinate staff?

No contracts to vaccinate staff. No effort to count how many staff have been vaccinated. Few actual vaccinations of staff. Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck this week wouldn’t even accept he had any responsibility for the rollout of vaccinations to aged care facilities.

Aged care workers are now being urged to go to state-run vaccination centres to receive their jabs — in the same way that people with disabilities, and the people who care for them, have been told to stop waiting for the “in-reach workforce provider” to get to them and go get it themselves.

The now-standard criticism of the Morrison government is that all it does is issue a press release, and never actually delivers. In relation to Phase 1a — the top priority group in the government’s only priority for this year — this is literally true: the Phase 1a rollout was announced, but there was never a plan to deliver any vaccines to the majority of the people in Phase 1a. The media release was a lie, from a government that lies incessantly.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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