Feb 18, 2021

Vaccine not mandatory in aged care, but staff who refuse it may have hours slashed

COVID-19 vaccination
Image credit: erkansenturk - iStock

While the government has declared that the COVID-19 vaccine will not be mandatory for aged care workers, some staff are worried that refusing the vaccine will mean their rostered hours will be slashed.

Readers on HelloCare’s Aged Care Worker Support Group have expressed their concerns about the vaccine, with one commenting they have been told they will get fewer hours of work if they refuse to be vaccinated.

Mary-Louise McLaws, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of New South Wales and advisor to the WHO, told HelloCare she is “horrified” the government isn’t making the COVID-19 mandatory for care staff and any staff “from the front yard to the back yard” in residential aged care homes should be vaccinated. 

“There is no room for complacency,” she said. “I’ll be very unpopular, but that’s the way it is.”

It’s not a matter of rostering staff on for fewer hours if they don’t get vaccinated, McLaws said, staff who refuse to be vaccinated should not work in aged care at all.

“To reduce the hours is not reducing the risk.

“It doesn’t take many hours or minutes to transmit if you are helping somebody in and out of bed, helping them to the showers. Your face will be in their face,” she explained.

“If you don’t like the heat in the kitchen, then get out,” she said. 

“Times have changed. We’re talking about a pandemic.

“If I were responsible for staffing,” McLaws said, “I’d say no vaccine, no work.”

Vaccination is for the wider good

Aged care workers must ask themselves why they are resistant to vaccines, McLaws said.

Vaccinations are not just for the recipient’s own health, but for the “wider good” – just like wearing a mask. 

“You wear a mask to protect yourself, but you’re also wearing a mask to protect others because you may not know you are providing a risk to others.”

When you are in a workplace where you are providing care to the very vulnerable elderly, the matter is particularly critical.

“Everybody has a responsibility when they work with the elderly,” McLaws said. “They have a residents’ safety in their hands.”

Management has a duty to protect

Elderly residents living in their own homes would have the ability to refuse to employ carers who were not vaccinated. But aged care residents are living in communal homes, and they “don’t have that ability to protect themselves, nor do their family have that ability to provide that protection to them,” McLaws said.

Therefore, aged care managers have a responsibility to make decisions, for example on staffing, that protect the health and safety of residents.

“Most reasonable people would want to protect themselves”

Though McLaws is “not a great supporter” of mandatory vaccination, she draws the line at healthcare workers, particularly those working in aged care during the pandemic.

“Their ill health or potential to transmit infection can impact the lives of elderly residents.”

However, infectious diseases expert, Professor Robert Booy, told HelloCare there’s no need to make the vaccine mandatory because it should “sell itself”.

“I predict that the great majority will say yes,” he said.

“It’s going to provide aged care workers and the elderly a strong protection against a nasty disease.”

Because a large proportion of aged care workers are between the ages of 40 and 60, refusing the vaccine will “place them at risk of catching a disease that is nasty… they could get COVID-19 moderate to severely,” Booy said.

“Most reasonable people would want to prevent themselves from getting the disease… and certainly prevent the transmission in nursing homes. 

“Once you’ve got an outbreak in a nursing home it can become very hard to contain. It can be very hard to control.”

Booy said there is also “no doubt” that staff can be spreaders of COVID-19 in aged care homes. 

“They go from room to room and for all the good care that [aged care staff] show to their clients, they are also a potential spreader of disease. 

“We want to avoid that.” 

“If the outbreaks in NSW and Victoria didn’t teach us anything it’s that the risk to residents is through staff,” McLaws said.

There’s no excuse

“There’s no excuse” not to be vaccinated, McLaws told HelloCare. 

So far in Australia, 909 people have died, of which 685 were residents of aged care homes. 

“We can not afford to lose one more person.”

McLaws put it bluntly. “It’s up to the workers to make sure [the residents] don’t die.”

Families who knew staff in their loved one’s homes were refusing vaccination, would probably take them home – potentially leaving staff without a job anyway, she said.

It’s our best option

It’s our best option

Booy said it’s natural there would be “reservations” about a new vaccine, but with more than 100 million vaccines administered already around the world, evidence of its safety is “growing all the time”.

The fact that case numbers are dropping rapidly in the UK and the US suggests vaccination is effective too.

The vaccine does “prevent disease, and we’ll have a booster which is commensurate with the mutation within a few months.”

“It’s the best we’ve got,” he said.

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  1. Once again. Aged care staff bullied and threatened. it’s near impossible to employ staff in the industry as it is.

  2. Making vaccination mandatory shouldn’t be aimed at aged care workers but for the whole Australia and its visitors. Families and visitors of residents in aged care homes and even vaccinated aged care workers have the potential of passing the virus to the residents.

    Some are against vaccination and even some aged care residents are against it. Some resident’s families and visitors are also against the vaccination so making it mandatory for aged care workers is only 50% effective.

    The focus should be on policies that will protect the residents in aged care workers. You can’t say “no vaccine, no work or work hours slashed”. Aged care is very much understaffed especially in remote areas where they don’t have the luxury of calling an agency carer or registered staff to fill shifts that affects the other end of the scale which is quality of care. One example of a policy would be is if an aged care worker refuse to be vaccinated then he/she will have to wear mask while providing cares at her own expense. And this also applies to families and visitors in an aged care facility; vaccination cards are checked before going in the facility and if no vaccination, then one is required to wear a mask. It’s diplomatic but it’s the new normal.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with Prof McLaws. I have little sympathy for anyone responsible for the care of my mum if they refuse the vaccine. There’s so much irresponsible scare mongering surrounding the vaccine. We all have a responsibility to one another under these circumstances. It’s not about the individual.

    1. Agree with you Chris, but am unsure since in Europe they vaccinated an aged care facility of 280 aged people and 169 tested positive after the vaccination. They immune system is compromised and receiving live virus has caused further issues. Problem is that in Australia we only have one choice of vaccine. Europe has 3-4 and some are dead virus, means not temperature controlled. You will have to be sitting in a refrigerator of 4C to receive this one, therefore can not be administered in Aged Care facility.. there is still so much to be explored about this vaccine. I am not against vaccination, but will be last in line, just to see what happens within first few months..

  4. There is no reason not to have it unless of course it causes anaphylaxis. If it does cause anaphylaxis then there are other vaccines coming. Seems straight forward to me. If you don’t want to get the vaccination and there is no medical reason why not then you probably should find another job.

    1. I have three staff unable to have the vaccine; one because of past GBS & two because of recent chemotherapy. There are more reasons than anaphylaxis to not have the vaccine, but not many. These people are the reason those of us who can have the vaccine should have the vaccine. Push for herd immunity to keep the very vulnerable safe!

  5. This article is completely full of propaganda BS and goes against the Nuremburg code of not using humans for experimental treatments. The MRNA Covid vaccines are not only experimental – they are the first of their type in the world and noone has any idea of the long term side effects.

    If the employer or government (state or federal) seeks to mandate the vaccine as a condition of work, then they should be willing to indemnify any worker who suffers an adverse reaction – given that the vaccine manufacturers are free of legal liability in the event of injury.

    Caroline, I’ve read many of your pro-vaccine articles with disgust, but this one takes the cake.
    Who’s paying you to spew out this propaganda without considering the risks??

  6. Most if not all residents will most probably be vaccinated. The vaccine is touted to reduce the severity of the illness but there’s very little confidence in statements coming out of the media about it’s ability to prevent the spread of the virus. So staff who are vaccinated still pose a threat to residents who are also vaccinated. There is little chance the current vaccine protects against the new variants, maybe 10% protection, I heard on ABC radio today.
    So I have yet to hear a convincing argument as to why all staff should be vaccinated. If I choose to protect by own health and immunity by supplementation with high vitamin D , Zinc , Tumeric , and Nigella – all of which give protection at least as effective as the vaccine, then why shouldn’t I have the choice to do so without being bullied by big pharma and government agencies that are close minded to the effectiveness of these alternatives.

    1. John – I hear you.

      Especially when I read information as put out by the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation. Excerpts as follows:

      “These COVID-19 vaccines have been found to be effective for reducing the severity of COVID-19…”

      “The vaccines do not ‘cure’ COVID-19 or completely prevent infection.”

      “A person who is vaccinated may still be infected by COVID-19 before or after vaccination and may still transmit the virus to others.”

      “Vaccinated people must still follow official guidance and recommendations regarding infection prevention and control (i.e., hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, physical distance).”

      Based on the above, can someone PLEASE tell me why I should put my health at risk by having something introduced into my body that is a long way from proving its efficacy? It is apparent, based on the above, that I can still contract COVID-19 and I can still pass it on. What’s the point in having the vaccination?

      I’m not against having it, but not until it has a proven safety and efficacy record and we know much, much more about it.

      I had to have a flu vax last year for the first time in my 55 years before I could commence employment in residential aged care and community care, otherwise I was not going to get the job. I’ve had the flu, once, 23 years ago.

      The same will happen, and is happening with the COVID-19 vax. If you want the job or to keep your job, you will have to have it. So much for freedom of choice.

      I’d rather, and will continue to follow my daily prophylactic regimen of Vit C 2000mg, Vit D 2000iu, Zinc 25mg and quercetin 500mg taken once a day. I have not been sick in years.

      I dare say I’ll be looking to join another profession which does not necessitate the vaccination. This saddens me deeply as I love what I do, but as of now I’m not prepared to put my health at risk.

  7. The entire nursing staff is threatened, not just aged care. I have worked directly with covid positive clients and remain negative . It is a sad day that we may lose our career over this. Do we not have any human rights left. I have been a nurse since 1985. I never thought I would see the day when a gun is put to my head if I want to work.

  8. Hi I am a staff member in Aged Care and have been through COVID within the work place and being positive myself. I’m all for protecting the elderly or any other person including myself and family. However the blame is clearly placed with us as nurses and caters from most people’s opinion including government my concern is people have a right to choice as the standards have clearly indicated for residents. Residents have the right to refuse the vaccine families of the residents have a choice and rights to refuse the vaccine but we will not and will have to choose between our job or our choice in our own health .Like the flu vaccination for staff not a choice once again residents have the right to refuse families have the right . Ifind this a double standard as I have never questioned or refused the flu vaccination as this is mandatory on my work place no flu no job but with this new vaccine this has been very rushed and the side affects are not clearly disclosed or known so in the event that I have the vaccination and I become extremely unwell or die from it who then is going to be responsible for enforcing that choice on me and who is going to support my family. I understand the reasoning for the vaccination but I’m not eager and am quiet scared of the unknown in this case . I am feeling like we are not considered as where is the proof that initially we were the cause when faculties had been affected?

  9. And what if you are a healthcare worker who has had severely adverse reactions to influena vaccines previously ? Does that now mean one must put their own health on the line in order to be able to work? Or be less entitled to work ? What about all the healthcare worker lives that were lost during the pandemic because they DID put their lives on the line? Herd immunity can still be effective even if not everyone is vaccinated. I think it is very unfair to target healthcare workers with the threat of discrimination related unemployment based on vaccination status.

  10. My staff have so far all been excited for the vaccination, not just for the safety of the residents, but also to keep the three staff members who cannot have the vaccine safe. Any casual staff who back out will find themselves unable to pick up shifts & any PPT or PFT staff will be required to wear a mask at all times when inside the building for the foreseeable future. When it comes to recruitment, anyone who has not been vaccinated will not be employed. I’m not f**king around with this. We do not want to be the next Newmarch House!

    1. Patients have Rights that include being cared for by personal carers that are protected against Covid 19.
      As a Certificated Gerontic Nurse I fully understand the risks our vulnerable aged have been exposed to in 2020 with their impaired and less, responsive immune systems and chronic diseases, and tragic loss of lives.
      I would suggest that personal carers who refuse vaccination for Covid ( without a medically certified condition) run the risk of a civil law action. We are all in new territory in both employment and the World we all inhabit. It’s about the greater good.

  11. Patients have Rights that include being cared for by personal carers that are protected against Covid 19.
    As a Certificated Gerontic Nurse I fully understand the risks our vulnerable aged have been exposed to in 2020 with their impaired and less, responsive immune systems and chronic diseases and tragic olossm of lives.
    I would suggest that personal carers who refuse vaccination for Covid ( without a medically certified condition) run the risk of a civil law action. We are all in new territory in both employment and the World we all inhabit. It’s about the greater good.

  12. Why do authorities say the “vaccine” doesn’t stop you getting covid and doesn’t stop you from transmitting it!
    Only lessens the severity, why bother it’s not going to make any damn difference!
    They have also dropped the testing markers way down that’s the reason that the “positive” tests are going down!
    So who is not being truthful here?

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