The flu jab is an is an important vaccination to help prevent against the known viruses that can cause the dangerous infection.
Yet despite this, the procedure is not compulsory for aged care workers in Australia before they enter the workforce.
Recently though, this oversight has been causing alarming problems in aged care industries across the country.
Flu Numbers Rising
Just last week, seven residents from a care home in Tasmania and another six from a Tasmanian nursing home died from flu outbreaks within the facilities.
The Department of Health and Human Services said the retirement village in Victoria contained 146 residents and 200 staff, of which 123 people were said to have been affected by the flu as a result of the outbreak, with similar numbers also occurring in the Tasmanian nursing home.
Dr. Brett Sutton, Victoria’s acting chief health officer, said that while the flu can affect anyone, elderly people are particularly susceptible.
“The deaths have occurred mostly in the last week, they were all elderly people in their 70s [and] into their 90s, all with pre-existing conditions so they were vulnerable to significant illness,” he said.
Yet Dr. Sutton also noted that recent figures of people affected by the flu are significantly higher than previous figures, meaning that the rise in outbreaks is not simply due to the health of its residents.
“We’ve had aged care facilities hit particularly hard this year with a record number of outbreaks in those settings and we’ve had elderly people in general affected more than most years.”
A Possible Solution?
The solution, Dr. Sutton says, lies with the carers families, but also, more importantly, with the aged care workers themselves.
“They [the elderly] are vaccinated in aged care facilities largely, including this one, but the vaccine doesn’t work as well in the very elderly so it’s incumbent upon those who are visiting and the staff in those facilities to try and be immunised and to exclude themselves from work if they’re unwell.”
Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, has expressed his desire for mandatory flu vaccinations for aged care workers to be enforced by the time next year’s flu season begins.
“We’ll be moving to ensure all health workers in the aged care sector are vaccinated subject to any medical exemptions,” he said.
“This is an emerging issue — it’s never happened before in Australian history.”
Will Mandatory Flu Jabs Work?
However, some experts have expressed concerns that mandatory flu jabs may not be the best way to deal with the situation.
Lorraine Baker from the Australian Medical Association said that many people may not want the flu jab, and forcing it upon them could cause problems.
“I’m a GP, I go to nursing homes, I had patients who refuse to have the flu vaccine,” she said.
“Patients in nursing homes have the right to refuse vaccination.”
But Federal Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, said that when there are lives at risk, mandatory flu vaccinations may be the best option.
“I would encourage people to get a vaccination or a flu injection, especially if you work in places with people who are vulnerable,” he said.
“I implore people to give serious consideration to staying away or wearing a mask.”