Several aged care facilities in Ballarat are in the midst of COVID-19 outbreaks, confining hundreds of vulnerable elderly people to their rooms, some of whom have not yet received their booster vaccine.
A spokesperson for Ballarat Health Services (BHS) said a number of the facilities for which it was responsible had activated COVID-19 infection control measures this week.
One of those facilities was Talbot Place aged care home, which had already been placed into temporary lockdown last week following a potential COVID-19 exposure.
Though a number of residents at that facility have since tested positive, it was unclear whether the earlier exposure and the current outbreak were linked.
Citing privacy considerations, BHS declined to answer questions regarding precisely how many residents at Talbot Place had tested positive, the vaccination status of those who had, or how many facilities were under lockdown.
"Out of respect for our residents' privacy, we aren't able to provide any identifying information about individual cases unless it is necessary to do so in the interest of public health," the spokesperson said.
"Ballarat is a small community, and the safety and privacy of our residents is paramount."
Last week, The Courier revealed an 86-year-old resident at Talbot Place - who'd been living at the nursing home since before the national booster rollout commenced on November 7 - hadn't received her booster shot, notwithstanding prior assurances from BHS that all eligible residents had.
The revelation also ran contrary to comments made on Sunday by the state's COVID-19 response commander, Jeroen Weimar, who said all residents in Victoria's 200-odd publicly run aged care homes had received their third dose.
"All public residential aged care facilities' residents were boosted before the end of last year," Mr Weimar said.
In response to the revelation, BHS said it was continuing to work closely with the Grampians public health unit to provide in-reach booster clinics to facilities "where it is safe to do so".
It comes as figures released by the federal government this week showed that only around 1700 out of 2700 federally funded nursing homes had been visited by an in-reach booster clinic to date, despite soaring infections and a commitment on the part of the federal government to prioritise aged care in the rollout.
Notably, studies on vaccine durability have consistently shown a booster shot to be essential to protection against Omicron infection, which poses a particularly acute threat to elderly people due to both their waning immunity - being among the first to be vaccinated - and their known vulnerability to poor health outcomes.
As it stands, there are now over 500 outbreaks in aged care facilities across the country, up from 54 just before Christmas. In Victoria, the number of active cases in aged care is nearly 1300, almost double the figure reported this time last week.
One of those cases is a resident from Mercy Care Ballarat, who tested positive following a decision by Mercy Care last week to stand down its COVID-19 response after two potential exposures relating to a positive staff member.
Neither the vaccination status of that resident nor the circumstances surrounding their COVID-19 infection was disclosed.
A recent survey of more than 1000 aged care staff undertaken by the Health Services Union (HSU) found that 90 per cent of facilities were working at reduced capacity, due to staff furloughs, while four in five aged care staff believed their facility was unprepared for an outbreak on the scale of Omicron.
HSU national president Gerard Hayes said the lack of preparedness for the "let it rip" approach was the fault of the federal government.
"The [federal] government comprehensively failed to plan before allowing Omicron to rip through the community and modestly paid workers," Mr Hayes said. "Residents in aged care who built this country are now paying the price."
"Workers can't access rapid antigen tests, they can't access PPE [personal protective equipment], they are on the front line with very little protection.
"The [federal] government has effectively abandoned the sector under the premise of living with the virus."
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