Health & Wellbeing

Aged care worker walks out after flu vaccine becomes mandatory

Elka Wood8 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?

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

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Philip Philip 10:31 pm 01 Apr 21

It is so tragic. Instead of making the world a better place for everyone we see more and more power going to governments and corporations at the cost of the freedom of individuals.
Today I received my Mandatory Immunisation Policy from my employer. I work as a Support Worker for an Australian Dementia Organisation.
Last year, for the very first time, I received a mandatory flu shot very reluctantly. I cannot remember ever having had the flu in my life. At my age the flu shot is only 40% effective and if I would get the flu I would stay home. But all of this does not matter to the Organisation. They don’t care about my health. I told them, and will tell them again, that when I signed my contract with them I never allowed them to determine what goes into my body. What they are doing is illegal and an abuse of my human rights. You must wonder how they sleep at night. I hope and pray that one day they will wake up and realise what they have done. I read Anki’s story with great interest and empathy and have enormous respect for her decisions.
Thank you for your example – I will follow.

Angela Angela 4:48 pm 04 Jan 21

This is so sad. Never should the flu vaccine become mandatory. When a vaccine can cause harm we should be in control of what we want to put into our bodies. Having the flu vaccine yearly will only create a buildup of harmful toxins that we don’t need. I will have to leave my career also when it comes time to mandatory vaccine.

    violet violet 10:47 am 14 Jan 21

    I also had a bad reaction to a previous flu shot and decided not to risk that happening again. My GP refused to provide an exemption as I could not demonstrate “proof” of harm. My father lives in an aged care home in ACT and I have been banned from entering his “home” since this mandatory vaccination policy came into effect. He’s now suffering the consequences of prolonged isolation, lack of companionship and emotional support that I normally provide. Clinically depressed and on medication. How is this “protecting” our elderly? Meanwhile other visitors who were vaccinated early last year can come and go as they please. Most of these people would by now have no more immunity against flu than unvaccinated individuals. Booster shots have not been enforced. The 2020 flu season is long over yet the restriction remains in place indefinitely. How is this an appropriate public health response to the Covid19 pandemic? Illogical, irrational, discriminatory, punitive and CRUEL. An epidemic of loneliness and desperation in aged care is a public health issue too!

Anita Anita 7:15 am 25 Aug 20

Please government respect differences. Give choices to your community. This is unacceptable and unnecessary.

Ali Ali 9:52 am 22 Aug 20

My mother is being forced to leave her job, work visa, apartment, and income—all because Of mandatory flu vax. This is so absurd. I am proud of her courage to stand up for her values, despite the many things at stake. Her faith and wellbeing are not for sale! I feel for the care facility as well, the had been trying to fill her position for a very long time and now will lose the employee because of this law.

Andrea Bronte Andrea Bronte 6:18 pm 09 Aug 20

It’s breaking my heart. Flu vaccine doesn’t prevent flu nor corona, we are backed in a corner to either have a flu shot, which we don’t want nor believe in , or see my 98 year old grandmother in her nursing home (my 11 year olds great grandmother)
This is giving me a grim hope for our country and our world … please, if you have a legal understanding of this, I’d love to hear my grandmothers rights and my families?

Jo Jo 1:29 pm 04 Jun 20

If you think that autoimmune diseases as a result of the flu vaccination are rare you are wrong. My sister has autoimmune disease due to flu vaccination. GP confirmed that flu vac causes immune response and resulted in her auto immune disorders. Life altering. Myelin sheath in the brain effected which will bring on Parkinson disease and she has to live with severe hyperthyroidism and fibromyalgia and battle everyday to improve her health so that she will not develop Parkinson’s. WAKE UP PEOPLE if you have a flu shot every 12 months this will be your new normal.

Jon 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 Fuzzy Bear 7:58 pm 21 May 20

About time!

Gosia 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 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 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 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 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 J 9:23 am 11 May 20

This is against human rights and the nuramburg code.

Sabine Basha 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

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