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Government action on recent influenza outbreak in aged care

An announcement by the Federal government to boost flu vaccination rates among aged care workers has been welcomed, following a round of recent deaths due to the spread of influenza within residential aged care homes in Australia.

A push for mandatory immunisations is being called for by aged care leaders  (Source: Shutterstock)
A push for mandatory immunisations is being called for by aged care leaders (Source: Shutterstock)

The call to action is a result of the deaths of seven elderly residents at St John’s Retirement Village in Wangaratta, Victoria as well as reports of fatality from Strathdevon Aged Care in Tasmania.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has requested Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, investigate that all current aged care workers are properly vaccinated against flu.

“I will work with the medical authorities, health care workers and the aged care providers on how we can make it compulsory for those working in aged care facilities,” says Minister Hunt.

“We cannot continue to have a situation where people, whose immunity is already low, are at risk from others who may be infected…our job is to protect those who need our care.”

Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt has also urged the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency to conduct a review into the practices of all aged care facilities across Australia.

Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) is currently working closely with the Government to further address this pressing issue.

“We extend our sympathies to those grieving families who have lost loved ones due to influenza this Winter,” says Chief Executive of ACSA Pat Sparrow. “As peak body for not-for-profit aged care providers, we look forward to working closely with the government to implement prevention measures that will protect as many residents and staff as possible.”

She stresses that vaccination alone will not prevent the spread of influenza, but is one of various prevention measures to be utilised.

“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, indeed – anyone coming into contact with older Australians particularly vulnerable to the spread of infection.”

National Seniors Chief advocate Ian Henschke has also commented on the importance of influenza shots, stating that flu shots saves lives in elderly citizens.

“The recent deaths in several nursing homes have resulted in the Federal Health Minister asking the Chief Medical Officer to look at how he can introduce compulsory flu vaccinations for aged care workers.”

As of current, the National Immunisation Program allows those aged 65 and over, most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and those who suffer from chronic conditions eligible for a free flu shot.

Aged care providers also offer paid-for or subsidised immunisation programs to encourage all visitors and staff working in aged care facilities to undergo immunisation. These programs adhere to guidelines developed by the State Department of Health.

Presently there is no requirement for aged care workers to be vaccinated.

COTA Australia Chief Executive, Ian Yates, has also held growing concerns regarding the rates of flu vaccination among aged care staff and is pleased to see this issue being swiftly addressed.

“Aged care providers need to have adequate procedures in place to ensure that residents are not infected with flu by visitors, and cross infected by other residents; so ensuring that all staff are vaccinated is something that can significantly lower risk.”

He has expressed concern over the vulnerability of aged care residents and is pushing for mandatory immunisation to ensure the wellbeing of both staff and residents.

“Aged care providers have a legal obligation to achieve optimum physical health for care recipients and the ensure they live in a safe environment.

“In our view this includes ensuring that staff are not carriers of the flu virus into nursing homes.

“One hundred percent protection is not feasible, but it’s not acceptable that the one action that we can have full control over – having all staff vaccinated – is not a universal requirement.” 

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