Following our recent article, COVID-19: Federal and State/Territory Directives - What it means for Aged Care Providers, where we discussed increased restrictions which have been placed on visitors to residential aged care facilities, the Department of Health has now released a FAQs sheet regarding influenza vaccinations and residential aged care facilities.
The update includes a number of relevant considerations.
Refusal on the grounds of cultural, religious or health reasons
The Department update states in respect of staff members who may not be able to be vaccinated due to cultural, religious or health reasons that “approved providers may otherwise need to redeploy staff that are not able to be vaccinated.”
Approved providers should note that this is merely a recommendation from the Department and that the FAQ sheet does not trump binding directives or relevant legislative provisions. For many staff who work in residential aged care, there may be limited roles for staff to perform other than at aged care facilities meaning that redeployment is not possible. For providers who operate multiple sites and have a head office function, one option might be to consider redeploying staff who reasonably refuse a vaccination to head office where a suitable alternative employment opportunity may be available for the staff member. If there are no suitable alternative employment opportunities, there is no obligation for redeployment.
Should you encounter circumstances where staff members refuse to have the vaccination with no reasonable excuse, we suggest contacting us for advice.
Evidence and record keeping
The Department has recommended that aged care providers should seek appropriate evidence of the immunisation status of individuals wishing to enter a facility to ensure they are meeting their obligations, i.e. that approved providers take all reasonable steps to ensure that a person does not enter or remain on the premises if they do not meet the influenza vaccination (and other) requirements set out in the directives. Appropriate evidence may be a statement or record from a health practitioner; or an immunisation history statement available from Medicare online or the Express Plus Medicare mobile app.
For staff we recommend that providers:
- Keep a record of all staff vaccinations (including the date of vaccination and any other relevant material, e.g. an immunisation history statement) to ensure the provider can substantiate compliance with the above requirements.
- Request that any staff members who have already had the vaccination provide evidence of this (e.g. statement or record from a health practitioner or immunisation statement) and the date of the vaccination.
For other individuals (such as visitors and contractors) who wish to enter the service, we recommend that the provider:
- Take reasonable and appropriate steps to seek appropriate evidence of immunisation status of these individuals (e.g. statement or record from a health practitioner or immunisation statement).
- Maintain records which can be used to substantiate compliance with this requirement.
Residents right to refuse vaccination
Providers are also reminded that residents have the right to refuse vaccinations. The directives issued in relation to flu vaccinations do not impose a requirement that residents must agree to be vaccinated. Their choice to refuse a vaccination is preserved.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article and/or would like us to provide advice, please contact a member of Thomson Geer’s national Health, Aged Care and Retirement Villages team.
Julie McStay | Partner | QLD | +61 7 3338 7522 | [email protected]
Lucinda Smith | Partner | NSW | +61 2 9020 5748 | [email protected]
Matthew McMahon | Associate | QLD | +61 7 3338 7959 | [email protected]