The introduction of flu vaccines to be made available for aged care workers comes following what the Government called a “horrific” flu season in 2017, which saw 90 percent of the 1,100 flu related deaths in people aged over 65, and the release of two new “ground-breaking” vaccines.
Health Minister Greg Hunt and Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt made the announcement that the Government will mandate flu vaccine availability for aged care workers, backing the move with results of a survey which show a significant link between increased staff immunisation and lower aged care influenza outbreaks.
“It will now be mandatory for every aged care provider to offer the flu vaccine to every single worker”, Minister Hunt says.
“Already we have made two new ground-breaking flu vaccines available to over three million Australians aged 65 years and over - free of charge.
“Today we are taking further steps to ensure those seniors are protected even more, ahead of this year’s flu season.”
The mandatory vaccination for aged care workers against the deadly flu virus has been welcomed by the aged care sector, with two of the industry’s largest peak bodies encouraging the extra protection for some of the nation’s most vulnerable.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of aged care industry peak body Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), Sean Rooney, says last season’s influenza virus resulted in outbreaks across the east coast of Australia with reported cases of infection in some aged care home, adding that in the lead in to a new season, it is “critically important” that our entire community does everything possible to prevent the spread of influenza in order to safeguard older Australians.
“Infectious diseases like influenza can take hold and spread quickly in locations where people are housed together,” Mr Rooney explains.
“It only takes two or three residents falling ill in an aged care home to constitute an outbreak [and] the seriousness of these outbreaks is due to the highly contagious nature of the influenza virus.
“Mandating aged care operators to make available influenza vaccinations for their workers will be an important tool in a mix of measures to control an influenza outbreak and lower the risk of infection.
“It is vital that all Australians are vigilant and exercise ongoing responsibility to reduce the risk of contracting influenza and, if people are feeling unwell and suspect they may have the influenza virus, then they should not enter an aged care facility.”
Fellow aged care peak body Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) CEO Pat Sparrow has also welcomed the vaccination announcement, saying it will strengthen the flu prevention measures many aged care facilities offer voluntarily to staff, and residents.
She adds that the new measures recognise how deadly and devastating the flu can be among those older Australians who are particularly vulnerable to its spread, but also acknowledges that the vaccination alone does not prevent the spread of infectious diseases, without the support of other prevention measures.
“Common sense plays a part and, in the context of a close community environment such as a residential aged care facility, the most important thing is to stay away from a facility if you are unwell - something that applies to families, visitors, staff, and anyone else who may come into close contact with residents,” Ms Sparrow explains.