Flu vaccination to be mandatory for all aged centre visitors
Off the back of the COVID-19 threat to residents in aged care and nursing homes, the federal government is embarking on a major campaign to get all staff and residents immunised against influenza.
Influenza kills hundreds of elderly people each year and while COVID-19 has been the focus of protecting the elderly, the flu season has already started early.
There have been a total of 19,271 laboratory confirmed notifications of influenza in Australia for 2020, at the start of 15 April, with 6,794 cases in NSW.
Respiratory presentations to NSW emergency departments were also above the historical range January and February but cases dropped off in March due to social distancing decreasing spread.
Three influenza outbreaks have been reported from residential aged care facilities in NSW so far this year.
Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians Richard Colbeck said the government had asked Primary Health Networks (PHNs) across Australia to assist in the co-ordination of flu vaccinations in their region.
"This health emergency is unprecedented and as we edge closer to winter we want to make sure staff and residents have the protection of the flu vaccination."
PHNs will contact all residential aged care providers by region to undertake a needs assessment and co-ordinate influenza vaccination programs for those services with an identified need he said.
Dr Rod Pearce, chair of the Immunisation Coalition, said outbreaks in nursing homes are a major contributor to deaths from influenza.
"From the first of May, people won't be able to enter those facilities without proof of vaccination but there no point in making sure people coming in are vaccinated if everyone in the institution isn't vaccinated," Dr Pearce said, adding he would like to see more support for GPs working in facilities to make sure all residents and staff were fully vaccinated.
Immunisation expert Professor Robert Booy from Sydney University said vaccination rates in nursing home staff was still only 50 per cent.
"This is so very, very important. We have only ever achieved 50 per cent (of staff vaccinated) and if we can do 70 per cent it will have a massive impact, it such an important preventive impact," Prof Booy said.
There are over 8.5m influenza vaccine doses secured on the National Immunisation Program for the States and Territories.
The Therapeutics Goods Administration has released 12,990,937 million doses for the Australian market including private.
Uptake of the influenza vaccine this year is at a record high with 2,088,016 jabs already received by April 14, over three times the amount compared to the same time last year.
While the influenza vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, it can protect against one of the deadliest threats to the elderly. There were over 34,000 cases last year and 122 deaths.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee recommended all residential aged care staff and visitors - including family, friends or external workers - be vaccinated by 1 May 2020.
On the rise: Influenza vaccine uptake
1 March-14 April 2017: 690,936
1 March-14 April 2018: 235,161
1 March-14 April 2019: 624,392
1 March-14 April 2020: 2,088,016
Originally published as Flu vaccination to be mandatory for all aged care centre visitors