Researchers say mandating COVID-19 vaccination for aged care staff in Australia was a successful policy. 

On 28 June 2021, Australia’s National Cabinet endorsed the introduction of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in residential aged care facilities. 

By 17 September 2021, when the mandate came into effect, 97.8 per cent of 261,732 RACF workers had received at least one dose. 

By 14 October 2021, this had risen to 99.8 per cent, with 91.8 per cent having received two doses of a vaccine.

“Ongoing monitoring data [show that] in October 2022, over 99 per cent of Australian aged care workers remain vaccinated with at least two doses,” write the authors of an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Polling by the Australia Institute reportedly suggested over 75 per cent of Australians agreed with mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for “frontline workers in aged care and other vulnerable settings”, with agreement slightly higher among older respondents.

“However, legal questions, including human rights and the right to bodily autonomy, were raised along with practical issues such as the possibility of medical contraindications among workers,” the experts wrote.

“Mandates should follow less restrictive, non-coercive measures, ideally occurring after other options have been exhausted; should take place in consultation with those affected; should be clearly justified and take account of individual consequences; and should not be used as a solution for access issues or in response to vaccine hesitancy.

“While some countries exercised a more cautious approach, Australia acted decisively to protect vulnerable RACF residents, based on emerging evidence about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines to influence transmission as well as to protect against severe disease.”

The government mandate was coupled with an $11 million Residential Aged Care COVID-19 Employee Vaccination Support Grant to assist RACFs with costs associated with arranging off-site vaccinations for staff; government in-reach clinics were offered so workers could access vaccination at their workplace; workers had priority access to vaccinations; and, the national COVID-19 Vaccine Claims Scheme provided additional assurance that financial support would be available if people experienced serious side effects from vaccination.

“Despite concerns about the risk of workforce attrition and absenteeism affecting service delivery capability, mandatory vaccination was successfully implemented in the nation’s aged care sector, demonstrating the commitment of Australia’s aged care workforce to the safety of residents,” the experts concluded.

“While the imminent mandate was an important policy driver, the iterative and layered nature of the road to implementation was equally important.

“Vaccination mandates were subsequently recommended for disability workers and in-home aged care workers, and for health care workers in some states and territories.”