Millions of older Australians are at risk. We need a vaccination policy reset

Vaccination rates have plummeted since the height of the pandemic, and Australia urgently needs a policy reset to save lives and take pressure off hospitals, according to a new Grattan Institute report.

The report, A fair shot: How to close the vaccination gap, shows that millions of older Australians at high risk of serious illness are not getting vaccinated against COVID, flu, shingles, and pneumococcal disease.

COVID vaccination rates have plunged. In December 2021, more than 90 per cent of high-risk adults had been vaccinated for COVID in the previous six months. Today, it is just 27 per cent.

‘The consequences are deadly,’ says report lead author and Grattan Institute Health Program Director Peter Breadon.

‘COVID is still with us, and it’s still causing more deaths and putting more people in hospital than the flu.’

But it’s not just COVID. Uptake of other adult vaccines is also far too low. Less than half of Australians in their 70s are vaccinated for shingles. Only one in five are vaccinated for pneumococcal disease.

And the problem is worse for older people from some regions, suburbs, and cultural backgrounds.

If you don’t speak English at home, you are only half as likely to get recommended COVID vaccinations as the average Australian. If you are Indigenous, you are a third less likely. Many people in rural and remote areas are not getting vaccinated.

The report calls for a new National Vaccination Agreement between the federal government and the states, to set ambitious targets and forge a plan to drive up vaccination.

There should be regular vaccination ‘surges’, when people at high risk of severe disease could get vaccinated even if they’d had a recent infection or vaccination.

The surges should be backed by government advertising campaigns, and every Australian at high risk of serious illness should be sent an SMS reminder to get vaccinated.

Pharmacists and GPs should get more help to reach more people, including cultural groups that are missing out, and people living in aged care homes.

Aboriginal health organisations should get more money to boost vaccination rates among Indigenous people.

And pandemic programs to reach communities with the lowest vaccination rates – including homeless people and some cultural groups – should be sustained and strengthened.

‘Hundreds and sometimes thousands of Australians are killed every year by vaccine-preventable diseases, and tens of thousands more need hospital treatment for severe and distressing symptoms,’ Mr Breadon says.

‘This report shows how we can make it easier for everyone to get a jab – especially the people who need it most.’

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