Apr 28, 2020

Why are so many aged care workers opposed to the flu vaccine?

Nearly one in five aged care workers are opposed to the sector’s compulsory influenza vaccination policy, due to come in on 1 May.

The opposition exists despite the clear and present dangers of flu, especially during the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A survey of 1,748 members of HelloCare’s Aged Care Workers Support Group revealed 18 per cent are opposed to compulsory flu vaccinations in residential aged care.

Many of the reasons given for their opposition are deeply concerning to HelloCare. It appears many aged care workers hold onto myths about the flu vaccine, not only putting their own health at risk, but also the health of the aged care residents they care for.

With it being compulsory for residential aged care workers to be vaccinated against the flu from 1 May, the findings appear at odds with policy, and raises questions about how successfully compulsory vaccinations can be implemented.

But thankfully, despite the high rate of opposition, many who said they are opposed to compulsory vaccinations also said they would receive the vaccination anyway.

Why is the flu vaccine so important for aged care workers?

Aged care workers have a special responsibility to be vaccinated to protect elderly residents, 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.

“It’s our social and care responsibility to reduce the risk of transferring infection to our clients,” he said. 

“Aged care workers who are not being vaccinated are failing in their responsibilities to their patients,” he stated. 

Flu more deadly than COVID-19 in Australia

Associate Professor Woodward said the flu has been far more deadly in Australia than COVID-19, although of course this has not been the case overseas, where thousands have died from COVID-19 in some countries.

“Flu actually has killed more people each year in Australia than COVID-19. So, it’s very important we reduce our risk of transmitting flu, and the best way to do that is through vaccination,” he said.

In 2019, Australia recorded its highest ever number of confirmed flu cases, though the number who died was just down from 2017’s record horror flu season.

According to the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, Australia had 312,978 confirmed cases of the flu in 2019. There were almost 1,000 – 902 – deaths, just down from 1,181 deaths in the 2017.

On average, around 400 Australians die from the flu every year, with the elderly, unwell and the very young most at risk. 

Preserving the workforce during COVID-19

If a resident were to become sick with both the flu and COVID-19, the consequences would almost certainly be fatal. 

Data from northern Italy shows older people who contracted both coronavirus and the flu simultaneously had an almost 100 per cent mortality rate, said Associate Professor Woodward.

Another reason it’s particularly important to vaccinate during COVID-19 is to ensure aged care staff can continue to go to work.

One of the most difficult problems that have arisen during COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care facilities is staff shortages due to quarantines and fear among the workforce, so it’s more important than ever that staff are well and as many can come to work as possible.

Aged care staff are “putting themselves at risk of going off on sick leave, and in this current environment there may be shortages of aged care workers, said Associate Professor Woodward.

Now not the time for vaccination doubts

Associate Professor Woodward said the arguments we often hear against the vaccine are wrong.

“Any conception that the vaccine does not work or is dangerous is ill founded and not based on the best evidence,” he said.

Common myths about the flu vaccine 

Myth: My cousin received the flu vaccine and died a week later.

Associate Professor Woodward said in one in a million cases, a person can develop Guillain-Barré syndrome (a rare disorder in which a person’s own immune system damages their nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis). 

“It’s extremely unusual. Flu is much more fatal than the vaccine. The vaccine is as safe as any vaccine that we give,” said Associate Professor Woodward.

Myth: When I had the flu vaccine, I got sick and had to miss work.

“It’s coincidental that some people develop symptoms after vaccination and it’s not due to the vaccine,” said Associate Professor Woodward.

“The vaccine can cause a local reaction in about one in a million cases. It can make a person very unwell. That’s unusual.”

Myth: The flu vaccine weakens your body’s natural immunity, and immunity is more important than ever during COVID-19.

“That’s the view of the anti-vaxxers,” Associate Professor Woodward said. “It’s completely ill founded. It is not correct. 

The flu vaccination will become compulsory on 1 May, meaning that anyone who wishes to enter a residential aged care facility will have to show evidence they have been vaccinated. Staff who have doubts about the vaccine have a short window to overcome their gripes.

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  1. Thanks for the article. In relation to the start date, it is important to note that in many states, the rules are already in effect. That includes Qld, Victoria and others.

  2. When communities are robust & healthy and follow hygienic cleanliness, sanitation, good plumbing & drainage systems of human & animal waste products ( like everyone is finally learning the importance of now, which should have been taught when they were young ) as confirmed by the reduction of flu incidences already recorded this year!!! I personally object to having a mandatory Flu vaccination to see my 95 year old mother in a Nursing Home as I have never needed the Flu vaccination & have not had any respiratory diseases for 20 years. May be the Medical profession need to broaden their studies, from Allopathic to include what HEALTH & WELLNESS IS ACTUALLY ABOUT & the public do not need their myopic fearful view of LIFE which is diseased base . . .really!! If their was broader then may be I would consider but it is not. I will have a Flu vaccination under duress as Enduring Guardian for my mother who I see daily for 30 minutes, employed extra staff so I pay an extra $3000 a month just to give valuable emotional & mental support, which Nursing Homes do not give whilst they are understaffed, lowly paid & suffer the indignation of caring for our elderly in below care standards whilst society wash their hands of looking after the elderly adequately, let alone feed them nutritious food at less than $6.00 a day! Plus deprive them of Vitamin D from the sun due to lockdown . . .does the medical profession have all the answers beyond a pill pr cutting out the problem??I do not agree that every one needs a Flu vaccination and this mono approach of treating all as having Chronic illness’s as a fact of this society!!so all have to be treated the same!Lazy thinking just like MONO farming practises that have stripped this land bare!! Medical profession does the same to humans!

  3. There is a logical inconsistency in the arguments that are being put forward in favour of mandatory vaccination of staff at aged care facilities. In my experience there is usually a greater than 95% vaccination rate in residents in these workplaces. A very small number of residents or their advocates decline yearly vaccination. But we are told that it would be professionally irresponsible not to be vaccinated when those we are purportedly putting at some risk have already been vaccinated. This article is the first I have seen that puts the argument that the primary reason is to reduce the possible incidence of staff taking sick leave. This could be viewed as yet another attack on the rights of workers for the benefit of the employer, who is usually operating on a ” for profit ” basis. Anti vaccination is viewed on a par with child abuse , not permitted to be discussed for fear of censure by registration authorities, and now illegal for family to visit their relatives in aged care , under threat of criminal proceedings from law enforcement agencies. Welcome to the brave new world.

    1. good thinking because their are a lot of myths in this supposed myth busting… and a lot of truths she has not told us.

  4. The Aged Care facility I work in has approx. 140 staff. Of those, maybe 2 were opposed to having the flu vaccination. That’s somewhat at odds with the ~20% suggested here.

  5. the chances of a one in a million to develop guillain-barre’ syndrome should be enough to raise concerns. That there is one too many risks. I know I wouldn’t like to be that ‘one in a million’ would you?

    Bodily Autonomy- The right to self governance over one’s own body without coercion.

    Residents have the right to refuse the vaccine but employees do not. ???
    Each person that refuses, has their own reasons and thoughts as to why they do not want to be vaccinated, and this should be respected as their right to choose.
    Employees are faced with an ultimatum…. Jab or no Job.
    Putting in place compulsory regulations and giving employees such a short amount of time to comply is absolutely disgusting.
    Prior notification as a requirement to vaccinate on entering the health industry is a fair call as a person can decide for themselves before becoming employed, but demanding that all existing employees have the vaccine should not be allowed.
    If we were not in the midst of a pandemic and jobs were readily available, I know there would be many employees that would be challenging this decision.
    Such short notice and nowhere to find another job, to me feels like we are being threatened
    At least give us a chance to decide based on agreement not coercion.

  6. Such a biased paper. Regardless of the amount of crap that is in a vaccine itself (besides the risks of the secondary effects of the active ingredients themselves) this a very patronising and fear based speech. People like Michael Woodward are not respecting the Hippocratic Oath a medical practitioner is supposed to be following and should not be allowed to practice. Not to mention forcing people to get injected with something and trying to make it compulsory. Good luck to you and your family finding an aged care worker when they would have bailed because of this.

  7. The link to this article isn’t visible from the home page . Is that by design or accident? I agree with the other comments that this is a serious attain our civil liberties.

  8. I agree with all the above, particularly as I got sick the 2 times I have had the flu vax and my colleague / friend nearly died (cardiac arrhythmia) post flu vax. Apart from the recipients who sustained permanent nerve damage. The main reason I decline flu vaccination is the following JBI recommendations:

    The Joanna Briggs Institute, 2015, Rural Practice Manual

    Evidence Summary: Asepsis: Clinician Information


    Dr Susan Slade, BScApp (Physio), Grad Dip Manip Ther, M Musc Ther, PhD

    A Cochrane systematic review was conducted to assessing the effects of vaccinating healthcare workers on the incidence of laboratory-proven influenza, pneumonia, death from pneumonia and admission to hospital for respiratory illness in those aged 60 years or older resident in long-term care institutions (LTCIs). The authors reported that vaccinating healthcare workers who look after the elderly in long-term care facilities did not show any effect on the specific outcomes.

    Other interventions such as hand washing, masks, nasal swabs, antivirals, quarantine, restricting visitors and asking healthcare workers with an influenza-like illness not to attend work might protect individuals over 60 in long-term care facilities. (Level 1)

  9. I am more than happy to have a flu vaccine to protect our elderly. I can front for work knowing that I am not a risk to their health. Influenza killed my beloved grandmother. If you don’t want a vaccine for your own personal reasons, simple, don’t work in health care!

  10. On 22 July 2020, Victoria issued Care Facilities Direction No. 8 which removed the
    requirement for workers and visitors to have an up to date vaccination against influenza to enter a residential aged care facility.

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