Health Ministry’s handling of vaccines rollout a shambles – rest home boss

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“Shambolic” is how one rest home boss is describing the Covid-19 and influenza vaccines rollout.

Empty vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 disease vaccine are displayed at the regional corona vaccination centre in Ludwigsburg, southern Germany, on January 22, 2021.

A rest home chief executive is worried that his facilities in South Auckland will not be prioritised for the Covid-19 vaccine rollout despite their proximity to recent outbreaks in the city. Photo: AFP

Aged care residents and workers are in the priority two category, and according to the government’s timetable are supposed to begin being vaccinated from March onward for Covid-19.

On Thursday the Aged Care Association told Checkpoint the government needs to give some certainty around dates.

Allan Sargeant who runs three Auckland rest homes said that with winter approaching delays and bureaucracy are putting his vulnerable residents at risk.

“Absolutely shambolic. That’s the one word that I could use. It’s the only word that describes what is happening in the industry at the moment.

“We were given, on 5 March after the February cluster, we were given an email asking for data gathering for our staff – details for frontline health workers so that they can get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“We only were given two days or three days to get that information to the DHB.”

On 18 March, they were advised to administer the Covid-19 vaccination before the influenza vaccination.

Since then, Sargeant told Checkpoint, he has been awaiting information from the Auckland District Health Board as to when the Covid-19 vaccine will be available to residents at his rest homes.

“On 25 March I asked for an update and a programme: ‘just give me a date. I don’t care if it’s April or May, give me a date so I can then work out what we’re doing’.

“Yesterday, still nothing from them. Another request and then finally we made the decision that we have to give the influenza vaccine before the Covid-19 vaccine.

“When you have the Covid vaccine you have to have the second dose 21 days after the first dose. And then you need to wait 14 days before you have the influenza vaccine.

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“Even if they start in the next couple of weeks, with the Covid-19 before the influenza, we are not going to be able to vaccinate our vulnerable residents with the influenza vaccination until some time in June.

“And that is just totally unacceptable.”

Trans-Tasman bubble adds more pressure

The temperature is already dropping in Auckland as winter gets closer, Sargeant said. “And there’s coughs and sniffles coming through with some of our residents and our staff.

“Now is normally the time when we would do the influenza vaccination. What has heightened it for everybody in our facility and all of our residents and families is that the trans-Tasman bubble is about to open, and that increases the risk to our residents of people travelling over from Australia, and they may bring a flu-type virus with them undetected.”

He said aged care providers must look after vulnerable people.

“We are the sole protectors of them. So, you know we need information about how to make good decisions, but it’s just not forthcoming. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

He was responsible for 152 residents across three sites, including two high-risk dementia units and around 160 staff.

Sargeant said he was feeling frustrated because he wanted to do his planning and he also had families asking him about vaccinations for their loved ones.

“The lack of information is astonishing.”

He said that yesterday he learned there would be an Auckland metro region rollout by the Northern Regional Health Coordination Centre for Auckland.

This went against earlier information, he said. His rest homes are in South Auckland and they had previously been told after the February Covid-19 cluster in the city that the South Auckland region would be prioritised so they were expecting vaccinations would start by early April.

Staffing, storage issues

He had heard that the Ministry of Health was having problems with staffing and the cold chain storage of the vaccine.

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“I just don’t know whether they are equipped to roll out something of this magnitude.”

He said when Auckland goes into a level 2 or 3 lockdown, rest homes go into level 4 lockdowns.

“So that means no visitors, the mental health of our families and the residents themselves suffer every time we go into a lockdown. You know, with limited visitation or no visitation, it causes absolutely stress on everybody, and it can be alleviated by just giving the Covid vaccine out faster.”

He had a simple request for the ministry.

“Get your act together and come up with a plan. I can do planning in a day. This is not rocket science. You have a team of people who are going around to facilities, giving out the vaccine …”

He said a spreadsheet could be set up, the facilities could be done in order and each one would be given a date.

He said some GPs already have the flu vaccines but aren’t allowed to start administering it to people over the age of 65 until 14 April. The rest of the supply for those under 65 would not arrive in the country until May.

Asked if he was at his wit’s end, Sargeant said he was also feeling the frustration from his clinical team as well.

“They do a thankless task of looking after the most vulnerable people of our society and they’re asking for some help and some guidance on this issue and the information is waffly and as I said in the beginning, shambolic. We can’t get a straight answer and it’s very frustrating and I feel that frustration coming from them when they’re trying to protect these people.”

Invitations to staff from next week – co-ordination centre

In a statement to Checkpoint the Northern Regional Health Co-ordination Centre said that invitations will start to be sent out early next week to aged residential care staff to be vaccinated at one of its community vaccination centres.

“We are also planning outreach vaccination teams to vaccinate aged residential care residents. We will be starting these vaccinations in the next few weeks. We will be starting in South Auckland as this was highlighted by the government as an area of priority to reduce the chance of future outbreaks given its location to border access points.”

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The statement also said that aged care facilities are at the top of the priority list. If they can complete flu jabs by 23 April they should proceed.

The co-ordination centre said it was working extremely hard on the vaccination rollout, which is the single biggest logistical exercise the health system has ever tackled. Once a confirmed start date for the Covid-19 vaccine was available it would let the aged care sector know.

Decisions based on vaccine availability – ministry

In response a spokesperson for the the Ministry of health said that it set the start dates for the programme based on information from the supplier about vaccine availability, and based on feedback from the sector that they required stock to arrive ahead of the start of the programme.

“We know that distribution takes longer to some parts of the country and it’s important that all providers have stock ahead of the start date.

“The start date of the programme for people aged 65 and over remains 14 April. Having a national start date is important as it enables nationally consistent messaging and equitable access to the vaccine throughout the country.”

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