Here we are almost at the end of February, more than one year on since COVID-19 rapidly spread around the world changing our daily lives in ways we had never imagined.
Last year was the toughest year in our organisation's history.
A struggle shared by many other businesses and individuals left roiling in the wake of the 2019/20 summer bushfires only to dive headlong into a global pandemic that we are still in the midst of today.
There was a commonly shared hope as 2020 drew to a close that when the clock struck midnight on 1 January things were going to suddenly brighten and be better.
Unfortunately of course that hasn't been the case. Though most Australians being practical and pragmatic figured as much and braced themselves accordingly. As we have at IRT.
The good news is that come Monday we will be taking our first steps as a nation on the road to recovery from COVID-19.
As Health Minister Greg Hunt dramatically announced - "the eagle has landed" - referring to the 142,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine that arrived on Monday, February the 15.
Come this Monday, February 22, Australia will begin its COVID vaccine rollout and aged care residents are among the first in line.
As the CEO of an aged care provider I am immensely relieved to have reached this monumental milestone. I am very keen to see this work for all older people, particularly those in our care and for our staff to make sure everyone is safe and well.
Keeping our residents and customers safe from COVID-19 has been and continues to be an enormous challenge.
However keeping them from becoming socially isolated because of these essential protective measures has been another equally important challenge.
Our staff do extraordinary things to keep our residents in touch with their loved ones.
From facilitating video calls and arranging window visits when face to face visits haven't been possible, to coordinating a socially-distanced outdoor visit for a bride to see her grandfather on her wedding day late last year. Protecting moments like these matters greatly.
At the time of writing this, the heavy weight on our hearts has lifted slightly as visiting restrictions in many of our regions have eased and visitors have been able to return.
As we have all found in the past year however, these arrangements can change in a moment, when an increase in community transmission results in tighter public health directions and visiting restrictions.
We hope the effective rollout of the vaccine will do its job in reducing the risk of COVID and perhaps restoring a more even visiting routine for those who want to see their loved ones in aged care.
Of course the vaccine won't absolve us from the usual social distancing and other protective measures that we will need to continue to prevent the spread of COVID. It is however a big step in the right direction.
We've been watching the vaccine roll out in other parts of the world with great interest. Millions of people have been vaccinated in the UK and US and now it's our turn.
The federal government is managing the vaccine process in residential aged care. At this point for us it is all about supporting that process and managing the logistics of ensuring that we get the vaccine to those first in line.
We are 100 per cent focused on working with the Commonwealth, our local health districts, other aged care providers and health care providers in all the regions we operate to make sure everybody who wants the vaccine can access it at the right time.
Though the vaccine is not compulsory for aged care residents or employees it is strongly encouraged that everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated does so.
Both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are free, effective, safe, and approved by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration. The vaccine is voluntary and signed consent is required before it can be given.
For this to work it is imperative we do everything we can to help educate people about the vaccine to make sure everyone understands its advantages and gets vaccinated.
Misinformation about the vaccine is the biggest threat to successfully vaccinating enough people to reach herd immunity.
There are many incorrect claims being made out of fear, particularly online. These false claims have never been substantiated.
Scientific evidence points to the COVID vaccine being the best path to achieving herd immunity and protecting ourselves, our loved ones and the community from a terrible, life-threatening illness.
COVID-19 is a serious disease. It is more contagious and more deadly than the flu.
It has killed more than two million people world-wide and left many survivors with long-term health impacts, and left many families in grief and loss. Anyone can get COVID - being fit and healthy doesn't protect you against infection.
Getting a COVID-19 vaccination not only protects you, it protects your community and your loved ones.
So when it's your turn to get the jab. Do it. For everyone's sake.
- Patrick Reid is IRT Group CEO
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