Mandatory vaccine for aged care staff aims to reduce flu toll

Residential aged care homes will have to offer influenza vaccinations to all staff under new government measures to head off a repeat of last year’s horror flu season.

Health Minister Greg Hunt and Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt said the results of a survey had shown 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,” Mr Hunt said.

“Last winter, 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.”

Mr Wyatt said that 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.

The minister 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.”

The subsequent national survey of 2,609 aged care homes revealed:

  • Only 3.5 per cent had the recommended staff coverage of 95 per cent or higher to gain herd immunity
  • 35.9 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.

Mr Wyatt urged all Australians to have a flu shot, especially those who regularly visited loved ones living in aged care homes.

Peak aged care services body, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) welcomed the announcement requiring aged care providers to offer the vaccine to their workers.

“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,” LASA’s Sean Rooney said.

“Infectious diseases like influenza can take hold and spread quickly in locations where people are housed together.

“It only takes two or three residents falling ill in an aged care home to constitute an outbreak.”

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