Aged care providers will be required to provide influenza vaccination programs for all staff in residential aged care homes this year.
Health Minister Greg Hunt and Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt yesterday announced the Government will mandate flu vaccines for aged care workers following the results of a survey that 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,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
“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.”
Minister Wyatt said the requirement follows research that showed aged care homes with only a quarter of their staff vaccinated had a 25 per cent higher rate of flu outbreaks than those with three quarters or more of their staff vaccinated.
ACSA CEO Pat Sparrow responded swiftly, saying consideration will need to be given to the circumstances of those individuals unable to be vaccinated for medical or cultural reasons, including the workforce implications for unvaccinated aged care workers.
“There is more detail to be worked through about the practicalities of administering this nationally but, overall, we welcome this announcement for the boosted protection it will provide older Australians and their families,” Ms Sparrow said.
Ms Sparrow said the Government to consider the additional regulatory and cost burden it places on many providers at a time when many are struggling financially.
“Once again, the government has imposed a further layer of compliance without consideration to the financial realities of many providers with 41 per cent currently making a loss,” Ms Sparrow said.
Last year, just over 1,100 influenza-associated deaths were reported in Australia, with people aged 65 years and older accounting for more than 90 per cent of these.
Minister Wyatt ordered the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency to review two aged care homes in Victoria and Tasmania, where 18 people died.
“Alarmingly, in these two locations, well under half of the staff had been vaccinated,” Minister Wyatt said.
“Infection control was further compromised as dozens of staff were struck down with the flu, compounding a deadly situation.
“What this policy will do is offer every person a flu vaccination.”
The subsequent national survey of the 2,609 homes revealed:
- Only 3.5 per cent had the recommended staff coverage of 95 per cent or higher to gain herd immunity
- 9 per cent had the recommended resident coverage of 95 per cent or higher
- 43 per cent reported at least one influenza outbreak in the previous year
- Those providing in-house staff vaccination programs had higher coverage than those who only encouraged staff to go to an external immunisation provider
In the lead up to the 2018 influenza season, the Quality Agency undertook an extensive awareness campaign within the aged care industry, targeted vaccination records of residents and staff and implemented practices that have been shown to increase vaccination uptake.
“Vaccination is imperative for staff and residents in aged care, where the flu can spread quickly and have devastating consequences,” said Minister Wyatt.
“I urge all Australians to have their flu shot, especially those who regularly visit loved ones living in aged care homes.
“Every one of us has a responsibility to reduce the chance of spreading the virus among some of our most vulnerable citizens.”