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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Flu jab mandate announced for all Vic health care staff as RACGP urges nation to be prepared

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Flu vaccinations are now mandatory for all Victorian healthcare workers.

Public and private hospital staff, ambulance service workers and those in public residential aged care will need to receive their annual flu jab before August 15 each year under rules rolled out on Friday.

Staff who don’t renew their flu jab by the deadline may face work restrictions, redeployment or job termination.

Prospective healthcare workers who aren’t vaccinated will not be considered eligible for the role.

Flu jabs became a requirement for healthcare workers in 2020, but the implementation was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similar rules exist in NSW and the ACT.

Changes will ensure staff and patients were protected during the flu season, Victoria’s deputy chief health officer Deborah Friedman said.

“After two years of reduced movement and interaction, we are expecting the 2022 flu season to be more challenging,” she said.

Workers who don’t interact directly with patients or access treatment areas, who are not subject to the mandate, are strongly encouraged to also be vaccinated.

Shots are available from GPs or chemists.

The mandate comes as the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and Consumer Health Forum (CHF) urges the nation to prepare for a potential resurgence of influenza (flu) and get vaccinated early.

The pandemic has led to decreased exposure to the influenza virus and lower influenza vaccine coverage compared to previous years, the RACGP says, but with an end to lockdowns and state and international borders reopening, a resurgence of influenza is expected in 2022, prompting warnings of a potentially monster flu season ahead.

Annual vaccination should ideally occur before the onset of each influenza season, which usually occurs from June to September in most parts of Australia.

The influenza vaccination program commences this month, providing protection before the peak of the expected season.

The annual flu vaccine is free under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) for children aged six-months to five-years and adults 65 years and over, as well as pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people with certain medical conditions.

RACGP president Professor Karen Price urged Australians to prepare for the flu season.

“GPs are concerned about this year’s flu season because Australians haven’t been exposed to the virus for the past two years like we were in the years before the pandemic,” she said.

“Flu is something to be taken seriously – in 2019, just before the pandemic, there were 953 influenza related deaths in Australia, and we are already starting to see cases in some parts of the country.

Australia has among the highest vaccination rates in the world, Price said.

“And our response to COVID shows prevention really is much better than cure; our high COVID vaccination rates are why we’ve done so well.

“Now it’s time to protect yourself against influenza, it’s another jab for sure, but it’s a win for you and your community.

Price said getting the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available in April gives people protection before the expected peak of the influenza season.

“Most practices will only open bookings when they receive stock, and your practice may notify you when this happens,” she said.

“Check your practice’s website and have a chat with your GP or nurse at your next visit to see when the vaccine is available, and book in for your jab when you can.

“It’s also important to keep up the great hygiene practices we’ve learned during the pandemic, including hand washing, coughing into your elbow, and wearing a face mask and staying at home if you’re sick – because all these measures help protect us from the flu, as well as winter colds.”

Diabetes Australia Group CEO Justine Cain urged all Australians living with diabetes to make an appointment to get their flu vaccine as soon as possible.

“Flu is a highly infectious disease that can make anyone sick, but people living with all types of diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing serious health complications than people without diabetes,” Cain said.

“For some people living with diabetes flu can even be life-threatening so please get your flu vaccine, schedule your COVID booster and keep yourself healthy this flu season.

“Don’t delay – book your flu vaccine today.”

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