Health & Wellbeing

Aged care worker walks out after flu vaccine becomes mandatory

Elka Wood 8 May 2020
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.

What's Your Opinion?

199 Responses to Aged care worker walks out after flu vaccine becomes mandatory

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Jon 12:29 pm 30 May 20

Before COVID-19 I was of the opinion that anyone refusing a vaccine was crazy. But now I am not so sure since COVID-19 has brought to light (at least in my mind) that there are timetables and pressures involved in pushing vaccines out year after year. So now, I am not so comfortable about being vaccinated. With a prescription medication, it undergoes years of trials and follow-ups before it is ever allowed to be prescribed, but vaccines cannot go through the same level of scrutiny because they literally have to concoct these vaccines every year. We are basically “beta” testers to draw an analogy. Now I greatly fear what will happen when my elderly mother enters a nursing home, since I am now very uncertain about vaccines, especially having read this article. My full respect to Anki Groening and exercising what should be a freedom of choice. I would only criticise her if vaccines were 100% safe with 100% chance of nil significant side effects.

Fuzzy Bear 7:58 pm 21 May 20

About time!

Gosia 8:29 pm 19 May 20

I’m neither for or against vaccination but definitely and only for a freedom of choice. None should ever be forced to be injected against their will! This must remain our individual choice otherwise we are being enslaved by the totalitarian government – this is very wrong!!! I’m afraid that this mandatory vaccination which has just started in to aged care sector will be also soon commencing across the whole community. 😢

Aneta 7:01 pm 15 May 20

I’m pro vaccinations, but not pro flu shot! And now I can’t visit my dad because of it and neither can his young grand children! It should not be forced upon us.

LucyLoo 9:19 pm 13 May 20

I believe in vaccinations but I don’t think the flu vaccine should be forced on people who have had any sort of bad reaction previously because it’s rate of protection isn’t that high. I think this is being too heavy handed.

Adriana 4:42 pm 13 May 20

I totally related with her situation I was applying for a position as care worker at the last stage this company asked for my vaccines certificate I wrote an email back explaining my body reacts very badly with any vaccines, they sent today an email saying they can not force me to get the flu vaccine but neither they will not hire me due the flu vaccine is compulsory as care worker position.
What a discriminating situation, flu vaccine does not prevent even the flu itself, of course it won’t protect anyone from COVID19.
At the end of the day I didn’t get the position because of the flu certificate.

Lynda Walsh 3:03 pm 11 May 20

Yes I have been prevented from seeing my mother at an aged care facility. My problem is a phobia so severe that needles can send me into Atrial fibrillation. But like Anki I can’t get an exemption.

J 9:23 am 11 May 20

This is against human rights and the nuramburg code.

Sabine Basha 8:52 am 11 May 20

I believe that, emotions put aside, a society that puts young people into lockdown to save the lives of old or sick people will sooner or later be faced with a harsh reality check.
My mother is 77 and is upset about what her children and grandchildren have to go through now. She says she has had a good life and will be happy to go when it is her time. It would be selfish and unreasonable to put young people’s lives on hold in order to prolong old lives (her words).

Laura 12:11 am 11 May 20

I can so relate.I am an Rn and totally did not want to have the flu vax but was forced to have it to keep my job.I was ill for 2 weeks after.It should be a choice what we inject into our bodies.We shouldn’t be blackmailed into having it and that is exactly what’s happening right now.Totally wrong on Every level.

Marie 11:43 pm 10 May 20

I truly am wondering if civil liberty law firms need to start to get involved. I too work in frontline human services and have realised that if flu vaxs are forced on me I will not be able to stay in the field.
It is criminal that people feel like they are being forced to do something against their will because they need the income..
Shocking.. are we really a country of the free?? I think we have to start standing up to this abuse.

V lee 10:40 pm 10 May 20

Dreadful that someone who gets sick (as I would if I had the vaccine, in fact it would probably kill me, due to allergies), has to give up a job that is so necessary, especially now, because a government can’t look at individual cases properly.

Johanna Leipoldt 9:08 pm 10 May 20

Similar to Anki I had a flu shot 22 years ago and have never been so sick in my whole life. It should be no surprise that this was my first and last flue shot. I’m turning 76 this year and can’t remember having the flu since childhood. With the first symptom of a cold I take high dose vitamin C for a few days which stops the cold straight away. I accept that flu shots might be of benefit to others, but no flu shots for me.

Peter Hyman 8:10 pm 10 May 20

I am the sole guardian and only person responsible for my 96 year old aunt who is in aged care. I have been banned from visiting her as I will not be getting the flu vaccination. She is fretting for me to visit and I can detect that she is declining mentally as a result of not seeing me. The flu vaccine does not stop you getting the flu. It does not stop you giving the flu. In fact it has been shown that you are 36% more likely to get a corona virus if you have a flu vaccine. This mandatory flu vaccination is cruel and discriminatory. It will also be tje thin end of the wedge. First flu vaccine and then other vaccines will be compulsory.

    Beth 2:40 am 22 May 20

    Citation of the research that shows 36% increase in contracting a corona virus after a flu vaccination, please.

Bt 6:00 pm 10 May 20

It is a disgrace to have to chose between your job and a vaccine !!!

It s identical with a discrimination based on religious, medical or conscientious grounds.

Tanya 5:33 pm 10 May 20

Death and birth are natural. I wonder of the elderly with little cognition, their bodies drawn into painful contractures, incontinent of urine and faeces, what they feel? Turned from side to side to stare in what direction they are placed for long hours with very little interaction. Meals of pureed mush spooned in and tablets crushed into dust mixed with custard and jam, the disgusting preparation offered many times a day. The tablets help reduce their risk factors for further disease. Really, how much further could one enter that realm. Doctors come to visit…’I hope I don’t end up in one of these places’. So, who is the voice for these people? I sadly think that influenza would be a merciful relief.

Lorn 5:14 pm 10 May 20

It’s so wrong to make injecting stuff into our bodies, regardless of if we agree or disagree, mandatory by law.
My Mum 93 in nursing home has severe depression and PTSD anxiety,confusion worsening in lockdown, after huge push, I was granted a visit and then told I can’t come in unless I have a flu shot. Never had nor wanted one. Then told there are none available in our area till June. So can’t see Mum until they became available again!!
Eventually I was able to hunt down a spare shot. I always said I’d take a bullet for my Mum. So I had to take the flu shot. I’m ticked I had to inject crap into my body to see my dear old Mum. But what else could I do, I couldnt let her suffer so much more. I fear this is how the government will make other vaccines, “ie for Covid 19” compulsory before we can go anywhere or do anything.

    Felicity Hellen 12:19 pm 11 May 20

    Spot on Lorn. Agree totally. Best wishe sto you & your Mum. x x

Richard 4:31 pm 10 May 20

This is a special case and it sounds like she has not been treated properly as this is not used as an argument for others without reactions to have the vaccine. Actually strengthens the argument for those who can must so that it’s not an issue if a few can’t.

Lesley Fahey 4:08 pm 10 May 20

While I support getting the flu vaccine every year, this lady has very good reasons for not getting it, supported by her medical records. Some common sense is needed here.

Lesley 2:48 pm 10 May 20

I am 64 I started having the flu shots since I was 60 I haven’t had a cold or flu since the first shot. Vaccines have prevented lots of problems over the years but ignorant people who don’t get vaccinated are the ones who spread the disease. We are seeing more cases of measles & mumps and other diseases because people are ignorant or scared of needles. Save yourselves & save the world.

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