Do I have to have the 2020 influenza vaccine to visit or work in a residential aged care service?
Since 1 May 2020, you must have had the 2020 influenza vaccine to work in or visit a residential aged care facility. This is a legal direction triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic (Direction under Section 16 - Residential Aged Care Facilities - No.6).
In Tasmania, if you have a certificate from a GP stating that you have a medical contraindication to influenza vaccine, then this requirement does not apply.
The exception to this is requirement is if you are entering the premises for the purposes of emergency medical, including transport, emergency management or law enforcement services.
What if I work in a community-based aged care service?
Influenza vaccine is highly recommended to protect yourself and your clients, but not mandatory for people working in community-based aged care. Influenza is a highly contagious disease that causes many deaths in Australia every year.
Why is influenza vaccination now mandatory in residential aged care facilities?
Influenza vaccination has been made mandatory because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While influenza vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, it does protect against the influenza viruses we expect to cause problems this year.
Older people are at higher risk of both COVID-19 and influenza. If older people get sick with both viruses at the same time, they are at even higher risk of severe illness and potentially death.
Influenza causes many deaths in Australia every year, including through outbreaks in residential aged care facilities. Vaccination of aged care workers and visitors can reduce illness and death in residents and reduce the need for staff to take sick leave.
Vaccination is important because you can spread influenza even before you realise you are sick.
Does the residential aged care service need to check that staff and visitors have been vaccinated?
Residential aged care providers must take all reasonable steps to ensure that a person does not enter or remain on the premises if they have not had the 2020 influenza vaccine. This could include sighting appropriate evidence of immunisation status from people seeking to enter the facility.
Appropriate evidence includes:
- a statement or record from a health practitioner
- an immunisation history statement available from Medicare online or the Express Plus Medicare mobile app.
If a vaccine record is unavailable, the service provider can accept a statutory declaration from the staff member or visitor.
What about emergency responders?
In an emergency, emergency responders (including Ambulance Tasmania and Tasmania Fire Service staff) and law enforcers can enter the facility, without declaring or providing evidence of their immunisation status. Emergency services staff are routinely encouraged and supported to have the yearly influenza vaccine.
What about contractors and tradespersons?
Contractors and tradespersons who need to enter the facility must have had the influenza vaccination.
Can staff who cannot safely be vaccinated work in residential aged care facilities?
In Tasmania, staff who provide evidence (a letter or certificate) from a medical practitioner that they are unable to safely have influenza vaccination due to a medical contraindication can still work in residential aged care facilities. Services may consider alternative duties for these staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If there is an influenza outbreak at the facility, staff who are unable to be vaccinated must protect residents by ceasing direct resident care or wearing appropriate personal protective equipment.
Can staff who refuse influenza vaccination for non-medical reasons work in residential aged care services?
Without the production of evidence (a letter or certificate) from a medical practitioner showing medical contraindication for influenza vaccine, staff members who refuse to receive the vaccine must not enter the facility.
Providers should seek legal advice about employment conditions for these staff and may consider re-deployment elsewhere until they are vaccinated or the pandemic (and legal requirement for vaccination) is over.
Can people who cannot safely be vaccinated visit residential aged care facilities?
Visitors who provide evidence from medical practitioner that they are unable to safely have influenza vaccination due to a medical contraindication may visit, as long as they meet all other visitor requirements.
Can people who refuse influenza vaccination for non-medical reasons visit residential aged care facilities to provide support and care?
Visitors who are not vaccinated and do not have evidence of medical contraindication to influenza vaccine must not visit residential aged care facilities.
Non-medical reasons to refuse vaccination (eg religious or other beliefs) are not acceptable reasons to be exempted from needing the influenza vaccine to enter a residential aged care facility.