EXPLAINER

Can my workplace force me to get an influenza vaccination?

Can my work force me to get the flu jab?

More influenza vaccines than ever are being distributed in Australia this year to help protect the community against the flu.

While getting a flu shot doesn't protect against COVID-19, contracting the two together would be a "very dangerous double-up", health minister Greg Hunt has said.

Plus, the coronavirus has been an enormous additional burden on the health system. A second phase combined with an influenza season like 2019 would be "an Armageddon moment", but there is not a high chance of that happening according to World Health Organisation flu centre in Melbourne professor Ian Barr.

But that's why the Australian government is recommending everyone get the flu jab this year in particular.

Should I get the influenza vaccine?

The answer is probably yes if you're more than six months of age and have no contraindications.

There are 16.5 million influenza vaccines to be distributed among Australians, which equates to about two-thirds of the population.

"Vaccinated people of all ages are less likely to get the flu and if they do, are less likely to have a severe case," professor Barr said.

"Fewer cases and fewer severe cases of the flu will result in less demand on our healthcare system."

The Australian government is a strong supporter of immunisation in that it is a safe and effective way to prevent the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases, including seasonal influenza.

Who is eligible for a free vaccine?

The flu vaccine is provided for free for eligible people including people aged 65 and older, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with medical conditions that put them at risk of flu complications, and children aged from six months to five years.

We call that the National Immunisation Program. Some pharmacists, GPs and Aboriginal medical centres can provide the free vaccine, but check to make sure there are some available. You might be charged a consultation fee.

Some workplaces provide free vaccines to staff. For all others, the vaccine is not free but can be obtained through some pharmacies or your GP.

Is the flu vaccine compulsory?

The influenza vaccine is only compulsory for those who intend to visit, or who work in, a residential aged care facility.

This is the first year that nursing homes will be able to turn away visitors who do not have their 2020 flu shot under the public health emergency directions put in place as a result of COVID-19.

"The aim of the restrictions on visitors and entry into residential aged care is to protect vulnerable older people in residential aged care," a federal health department spokesman said.

"Broadly there are no exemptions from these entry restrictions for individuals that choose not to receive the influenza vaccine for personal, cultural or religious reasons."

There are exemptions for medical reasons, an ACT Health spokesman confirmed.

For everyone else, the vaccine is not compulsory but it is recommended for all Australians (aged over six months and who have no contraindications).

How can I prove I got the influenza vaccine if I need to?

Evidence can be a statement or record from your health practitioner at the time of the vaccination; or an immunisation history statement from Medicare online through myGov, or the Express Plus Medicare mobile app.

Can my workplace force me to get the flu shot?

Unless you work in residential aged care, your workplace cannot force you to get the flu shot.

"Whilst some workplaces may place requirements on individuals to be vaccinated against seasonal influenza, immunisation is not compulsory and people maintain the right to choose whether to receive an influenza vaccination," a federal health department spokesman said.

Australia has 16.5 million influenza vaccines to distribute, which equates to about two-thirds of the population. This is a record number as a result of the 2017 and 2019 seasons.

How many vaccines does Australia have to distribute?

Australia has 16.5 million vaccines to distribute, which equates to about two-thirds of the population. This is a record number as a result of the 2017 and 2019 seasons which were some of the worst on record in Australia, and in response to COVID-19.

When is the flu season?

Generally, influenza cases grow rapidly in July and peak in August. Last year was an exception, though, with the worst flu season on record starting early in March.

Is it too late to be vaccinated?

No, it's not. Professor Barr said there should be plenty of vaccines available for people who want it, but providers are experiencing high demand so appointments might be the only thing in short supply at the moment.

Are COVID-19 restrictions having an impact on influenza numbers?

Yes. Professor Barr said Australia was seeing about 10 per cent of cases compared with what we normally see at this time of year.

"This is based on lab-confirmed influenza cases so there might be bias in there because some people aren't going to be tested or can't get an appointment.

"So there might be an artificially low reduction but certainly, numbers are down."

This story Can my work force me to get the flu jab? first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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