The federal government has been under fire for its bungled rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations across Australia.
During Senate Estimates on Tuesday, senators raised concerns about the messaging from Prime Minister Scott Morrison that getting the jab was not a race has resulted in complacency among Australians and the delays in providing vaccination to those in high-risk environments, such as aged care facilities.
Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck, representing also the health portfolio, was unable to provide an answer as to how many aged care workers had been vaccinated.
He said the government has been working on a portal to help it understand those figures.
"The portal which will record results from providers around vaccination will go live on Friday," he said, noting work on the portal has been underway for a "period of time" and that it "preceded all of the things occurring in Victoria", rejecting the claim that Victoria's current outbreak has prompted such work from government.
"We have been working to make sure that we gather this data for a period of time … while we were pulling together the systems that would do the recording … so that we could get a better indication of where we stood."
"It was clear to us however that we needed to have a specific mechanism to record and gather the information."
Currently, the government does not have access to accurate data on how many aged care workers have been vaccinated as the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) does not record occupation.
Initially, aged care residents and staff were to receive the jab at the same time. But as Colbeck said, the "process" had to be "redesigned".
"The original program that we were proposing to roll out was that we would vaccinate staff and residents at the same time. The clear health advice that we received based on overseas experience was that we should not do that, so that has necessitated us finding a different way to vaccinate the staff -- to make vaccination available to staff," he said.
Colbeck was asked to reflect on a statement made by Morrison on January 7 that said aged care workers were more of a priority for vaccination than ministers.
"It's all well and good to take a statement made at one point in time … and when further information or further developments occur, you make modifications," he said in response.
It was later clarified that around 32,833 aged care staff had been fully vaccinated through the Commonwealth program. This figure does not include those vaccinated by their GP or other clinics. It is estimated there are around 366,000 people employed in the aged care sector.
"Because of the number of channels that staff have available to them to access the vaccine and the central reporting system doesn't have as a part of its feature what area of the workforce people are employed in, we don't have access to that information. [As] we can't search the AIR system based on occupation, we've had to build a new system which we have been working on for a period of time. It will go live on Friday, which will require aged care providers to report the number of staff that have been vaccinated that will give us that information," Colbeck later reiterated.
Around 64% of aged care residents across Australia have been vaccinated. This figure is around 57% in Victoria. The Victorian government on Tuesday morning announced it was taking "immediate action" to keep people who live in residential disability settings, private aged care residents, and staff safe with a "vaccination blitz" to ensure workers in these vulnerable settings are protected against coronavirus.
Colbeck said he was comfortable with the rollout of the vaccine in Australia.