Apr 20, 2020

Why isn’t the flu vaccine compulsory for home care workers?

From 1 May, it will be compulsory for residential aged care workers to be vaccinated against the flu, but the same requirement is not made of home care workers.

According to a Department of Health fact sheet,, in-home care workers are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated against the flu, but it is not a requirement of their role.

“While it is not compulsory for in-home aged care workers to receive the influenza vaccination to continue working, we strongly encourage all staff and volunteers to receive the influenza vaccination this year if available to them,” the document states.

Why vaccinate?

Associate Professor Michael Woodward, a geriatrician in private practice at Donvale Rehabilitation Hospital and head of aged and residential care services at Austin Health, told HelloCare home care workers are “not off the hook”.

“I think anybody who’s dealing with elderly people as part of their caring duties, and this includes doctors and nurses in hospitals, has to show their responsibility by having the flu vaccine,” Dr Woodward said.

Dr Woodward did not mince his words stating the importance of the vaccination for all aged care workers.

“If you want to do your job (in aged care) and reduce the chance of killing the people that you’re caring for, you need to have the flu vaccine.

“I use those words carefully,” he said.

“If you don’t have the flu vaccine, you may be responsible for killing the person that you work for.”

Coronavirus and flu combined a death sentence

Dr Woodward said the flu vaccine is more important than ever this year because older people who get both the flu and coronavirus will almost certainly die.

Data from northern Italy shows that older people who contracted both coronavirus and the flu simultaneously had no chance of survival.

“Particularly this year, when we know that coronavirus is not at all uncommon in aged care facilities, if any of our residents were unfortunate enough to get both coronavirus and the flu, there’s almost 100 per cent mortality rate,” he said. 

“The best way to prevent transferring flu to our patients, the people we are caring for, is by being vaccinated ourselves.” 

Preserving the aged care workforce

It is also vital the aged care workforce is protected during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Woodward said.

“In this coronavirus era, although this is always true, we want to make sure we have a workforce… that can (continue to) come to work,” Dr Woodward said. 

“If they get the flu they will be out of action… for at least a week. And that’s obviously going to make it very hard for us to provide adequate care for people in aged care,” he said.

Likely to be a “light” flu season this year

Early data suggests this year’s flu season is likely to be relatively modest due to the restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“One would suspect that there’s going to be less flu this year because there’s certainly been better hygiene, less person-to-person contact,” Dr Woodward told HelloCare.

“Data already suggests that this is probably going to be a light flu season. But nevertheless, we want to do everything we can to make sure we’re not one of the few people to get flu this year.”

No good reason not to vaccinate

Dr Woodward said he couldn’t see any reason the flu vaccine wasn’t compulsory for home care workers.

“As a expert in flu vaccination, and particularly in the benefits of flu vaccination for older people, I cannot believe or accept any argument against vaccination,” he told HelloCare.

He wasn’t sure why the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the key medical decision-making committee for health emergencies which imposed the residential aged care requirement, made the distinction between the two modes of aged care.

The boundaries are increasingly “blurred” between residential and home care, he said. “Many people who receive home care will have regular visits to facilities, either for day care or for respite care overnight, so I think it’s a very arbitrary boundary between home aged care and residential aged care.”

Someone receiving home care who gets the flu probably has a lower possibility of passing it on than residents of an aged care facility, he suggested. 

“If one of the people you’re caring for at home gets flu they’re probably not going to spread it to many other people, but if one of the people you’re caring for in residential care gets flu, the flu virus can spread around that facility very quickly,” he said.

Dr Woodward said many people give excuses not to be vaccinated, but this year is not the time for such myths.

He said he has heard people say when they get the flu vaccine they get the flu, or they say vaccines reduce the strength of your immunity.

“This is not the year to let those spurious arguments dominate,” he said.

Image: monkeybusinessimages, iStock. Models are used. Image does not reflect true people or events.

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  1. The answer is very simple, vaccination for common and infectious illnesses, such as flu, has to be compulsory for ALL workers in the health care system, aged care, disability services and child care. And any other vulnerable population I have not mentioned.

    That must include Home Care services of every description.

    If the staff concerned have a good reason why they cannot be vaccinated they need a new job.

    There is nothing complicated about this, transmitting infectious illness to your clients is totally unacceptable.

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