Aged care worker walks out after flu vaccine becomes mandatory

Elka Wood 7 May 2020 94
Registered nurse Anki Groening outdoors.

Registered nurse Anki Groening, of Bega, has chosen to leave her profession rather than receive an annual flu vaccination. Photo: Supplied.

Did you know that from 1 May 2020, it’s mandatory for all aged care workers and visitors to an aged care facility in Australia to have received the flu vaccine?

Along with continuing to respond to the spread of COVID-19, the Federal Government’s response to the flu this year has been early and hefty, with $80 million invested in providing a record 16.5 million free flu shots to Australians.

“While flu vaccination does not prevent COVID-19, both influenza and COVID-19 cause serious respiratory illness. The combination of both diseases could be life threatening,” said a statement from the Department of Health.

But the hardline approach is costing some workers their jobs and leaving them wondering if making the vaccine mandatory is a knee-jerk reaction to the spread of COVID-19.

Anki Groening, of Bega, has worked as a registered nurse for 10 years, first as a midwife and, for the past three years, in aged care at a Bega facility.

She says that for her, the risks associated with getting the flu shot every year far outweigh the benefits.

“I had a round of vaccinations to get up-to-date when I completed my nursing degree and had an immediate reaction,” she explains. “I was in bed for six weeks and had unexplained arthritis for two years afterwards.

“When I went to the doctor, she said she’d never seen such high levels of autoimmune indicators.”

Despite her reaction, Anki tried immunisation one more time while preparing to take a midwifery job in the Solomon Islands.

Again, she was seriously ill.

“I gave my boss [at the Bega aged care facility] my medical records and said that getting the shot every year to continue working there would jeopardise my health.

“I let them decide, but it’s out of their hands, they have to follow government rules.”

Anki was asked to provide one of three acceptable reasons to decline the flu vaccine. These exceptions are cancer treatment, a record of Guillain-Barré syndrome following previous flu vaccination, or a history of anaphylaxis connected to immunisation.

When she couldn’t provide one of these reasons, she was immediately stood down.

“What they are asking us to do is weigh up our job and income over our health and wellbeing,” says Anki. “The historical battle between pro-vaccination and anti-vaccination leaves little room for grey areas like my situation.”

Anki says she feels for her colleagues Australia-wide, some of who she says don’t feel strong enough financially to refuse the vaccine.

“There is one nurse in particular, who I work with, who is so upset but can’t afford to lose her job, so she’s being vaccinated against her will.”

Anki says she can’t help thinking about the first thing she learnt in her nursing degree: do no harm.

“The flu vaccine is not effective enough, and the flu is not deadly enough, to warrant risking my health again,” she says, adding that the effectiveness of the vaccine varies from 40-60 per cent, depending on age and other factors.

Because the flu vaccine was given early this year in response to fears about COVID-19, and is only effective for three months, a booster shot will be necessary to maintain a chance of immunity during the winter months.

“I did ask my work if I could not work there for three months a year but they said the ban on unvaccinated workers applies all year, even though the vaccine wears off after three months,” Anki says in frustration.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 2017 was the worst flu year in recent history, with 1255 deaths due to influenza.

According to the report, approximately 500 people die each year in Australia from flu, with the majority aged above 75 and having comorbidities.

Anki will miss her elderly clients, especially hearing their stories, but says she won’t miss the way the industry preserves life at all costs, or the way that death is feared.

“Birth and death are similar,” she smiles. “When it’s time, we have to be strong for the person going through it because both are natural processes.

“To continue the stance that we must prevent flu deaths at all costs – even at the cost of younger, healthy people – it’s a pretty big conversation that no-one wants to have.”

For more information, visit NSW Health.

Original Article published by Elka Wood on About Regional.

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94 Responses to Aged care worker walks out after flu vaccine becomes mandatory
Jillian Goldsmid Jillian Goldsmid 12:59 pm 11 May 20

I work in age care and you are not forced unless you have any medical condition that are to risky to get the flu needle.

You just need a doctor note if you have any under laying conditions. You need to consult with a gp if you don’t think you should have the flu vaccine and then you can still

work if the gp puts it in writeing you can’t have it. I didn’t know it was so strict on what those reason were

Christine Gembus Christine Gembus 10:51 am 11 May 20

Good, now she won’t be able to put others at risk. If you work in a CARE Industry, you should have workers who care about the lives they’re supposed to be protecting.

Deb Liz Deb Liz 11:39 pm 10 May 20

First flu shot last year, I was so sick with the flu a week later. Spent a week in bed. Absolutely confused me.

Sandra Wright Sandra Wright 11:07 pm 10 May 20

heaps of people are against the vacc and lots of nurses quit or were forced and they care very much for the residents

Mick Johnson Mick Johnson 10:41 pm 10 May 20

no jab no job. its the requirements of the workplace. Just like mandatory drug and alcohol testing.

Fred Pilcher Fred Pilcher 9:17 pm 10 May 20

Excellent! Now she won't be able to endanger others. I trust she was sacked.

Katharine Nicholson Katharine Nicholson 1:40 pm 10 May 20

"Anki... says she won’t miss the way the industry preserves life at all costs."

Uh, YIKES. Wouldn't want her as my nurse, or my grandad's nurse.

Mac John Mac John 10:43 am 10 May 20

For the safety of others, take the Jab or stay in self isolation.

Phil Hopkins Phil Hopkins 8:06 am 10 May 20

I guess she won't be playing for the Raiders anytime soon either

Shell Suters Shell Suters 11:46 pm 09 May 20

Yeah but I can’t get the vaccine! It’s out of stock everywhere !

Dory Johns Dory Johns 11:41 pm 09 May 20

One good thing that has come out of this corona virus pandemic is that finally people are being told to stay home if they are sick . No more should we hear that stupid Codral Cold and Flu advertisement encouraging people to 'Soldier On' and infect others for whom a simple cold could kill.

    Michael Angus Nicol Michael Angus Nicol 5:32 am 10 May 20

    Dory that ad was such socially irresponsible marketing, should never have been approved.

Tony Williamson Tony Williamson 11:19 pm 09 May 20

I have had 2 flu shots (not consecutive years) and within 6 weeks I have had pnuemonia.......may well be coincidence but now I have CPOD I dont particularly wont to risk a 3rd go. Under normal circumstances I advocate vaccination

    Sandra Wright Sandra Wright 11:10 pm 10 May 20

    yes i would say some vaccs could be good, but too many have crap in them and they only tell you some ingredients

    Debbie Lizars Debbie Lizars 4:07 am 11 May 20

    Definitely coincidence it only covers 3-5 strains of over 2000 strains. It isn’t a live vaccine so you can’t catch the flu from it. Having COPD is a very good reason to have them yearly.

Acton Acton 11:11 pm 09 May 20

I thought all anti-vaxers were nutters until I had an allergic cardiac and respiratory reaction to a vaccination requiring an emergency response. Was told not to have another, ever. Am not an anti-vaxer but just can’t have it for myself so understand people in this position.

Cassie Carey Cassie Carey 10:51 pm 09 May 20

I also had a severe reaction to the flu shot, and am now immune suppressed and on biologics. I have been told I'm never to have another one.

Kristen Saep Kristen Saep 10:20 pm 09 May 20

Bye Karen! 👋

Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 9:33 pm 09 May 20

There should be medical exemptions for situations like this. In this instance they should be held to stricter health guidelines with PPE and isolation between shifts.

Natalie Osburne Natalie Osburne 9:22 pm 09 May 20

Her stance on vaccination means that she could transmit very serious disease such as TB, I agree that she shouldn’t be working amongst vulnerable people

Andrew Curran Andrew Curran 9:19 pm 09 May 20

i worked in age care for 6 yrs, dont take much for the old ducks to get sick and spread it right through vaccine at least myhelp stop the spread . she can go jump

Aldith Graves Aldith Graves 8:31 pm 09 May 20

Anki will miss her elderly clients, especially hearing their stories, but says she won’t miss the way the industry preserves life at all costs, or the way that death is feared.... To continue the stance that we must prevent flu deaths at all costs – even at the cost of younger, healthy people – it’s a pretty big conversation that no-one wants to have.” Says everything about this nurse & her views

Aldith Graves Aldith Graves 8:29 pm 09 May 20

Her choice. No one wants a nurse with the flu in their vicinity - particularly given that dreadful “soldier on” mentality.

If she had has these bad reactions they should be on her medical records & easily at hand for a doctor to spit out the appropriate letter - as happens with people who really are compromised & need to make sure that their records are up to date

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