Leading aged care provider Oceania Healthcare wants the Government to reconsider its approach to a Covid-19 vaccine by prioritising our most vulnerable – those in aged residential care and their nurses.
Under the current COVID-19 Sequencing Framework, should New Zealand remain in a position of low/no community transmission, our elderly will be among the third group to receive the vaccine.
But looking at how COVID-19 has already taken a toll on the elderly in New Zealand – with almost all the country’s 25 victims being residents of aged residential care facilities – Dr Frances Hughes, Oceania Healthcare General Manager of Nursing and Clinical Strategy, says this plan is not good enough.
“If they get really sick, they will swamp the system, or they will die.”
At the peak of the period of COVID-19 incidence in New Zealand, five significant clusters were identified in aged residential care facilities. Those residents are particularly vulnerable to the complications of COVID-19 infections.
Oceania Healthcare has over 3,600 residents, contributing to the 38,000 beds across all aged residential care facilities in New Zealand. That total is three times the number of hospital beds available across all District Health Boards combined. With this ratio comes a risk that infected elderly will take up hospital beds that could otherwise be used for people with other illnesses.
“It puts pressure on the total system if they don’t provide an accessible preventable approach as soon as we get a vaccine,” Dr Hughes says.
She adds the vaccine will also need to be made available to staff and healthcare workers of aged residential care facilities as a priority, to protect residents they closely care for.
The importance of this was highlighted when reviewing the cases in aged residential care facilities – the most common vector of COVID-19 to aged residential care facilities was a staff member.
“We have spent the last year keeping our residents safe and this is the final leg. We don’t want to trip on the last hurdle,” Dr Hughes says.
As the current COVID-19 Sequencing Framework stands, the first two groups to receive the vaccine will include those working at the border, in isolation and quarantine facilities, and in frontline healthcare and emergency services.
Dr Hughes, and Oceania Healthcare, agree this border and frontline workforce should be a priority and are asking that New Zealand’s elderly, their carers, and those with chronic illnesses, are included in the first group.
“We have to look at the next vulnerable, and that is the elderly and those with chronic illness.”
Unless changes are made, aged care residents and those over 65 years will only be given the vaccine in the first group should the country be experiencing widespread community transmission at the time of the vaccine arriving in the country.
To help alleviate the pressure put on vaccinators, nearly 80 Oceania Healthcare registered nurses are currently undergoing the Provisional Vaccinator Foundation Course established by the Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC).
That gives each Oceania Healthcare facility at least one vaccinator.
“We want our Oceania Healthcare nurses to undergo the same standard of quality control so we can contribute to the growing pool of vaccinators in New Zealand.”
Not only will this support the rollout of the vaccine across Oceania Healthcare and prevent residents from clogging up the health system, it will also contribute to better results of the vaccine.
Dr Hughes says giving the vaccine is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and Oceania Healthcare’s nurses know the condition of the residents and their allergies, and can most importantly ensure consent is given.
“It is important vaccinators know the population they are vaccinating,” Dr Hughes says. “You can imagine how challenging it can be to vaccinate someone who is cognitively impaired.”
About Oceania Healthcare:
Oceania Healthcare is a leading provider of premium healthcare services in New Zealand. Home to over 3,600 residents across 44 sites in New Zealand, Oceania Healthcare is transforming the retirement and aged care experience, and redefining what it means to live in a Village.
About Dr Frances Hughes, Oceania Healthcare General Manager of Nursing and Clinical Strategy:
CNZM, BA, MA, PhD (Nursing)
Dr Hughes is a Registered Nurse with over 30 years’ nursing experience. Dr Hughes has held senior management and nursing positions on a global level and was formerly the Chief Executive of the International Council of Nurses. She has worked for the World Health Organisation and has also served on boards in Queensland, Rwanda and Switzerland. Dr Hughes was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to mental health in 2019. She joined Oceania in October 2019.