NSW Health has released a revised policy directive on health care worker screening and vaccination
PD2020_17 Occupational Assessment Screening and Vaccination Against Specified Infectious Diseases which continues mandatory vaccination and screening for certain diseases for workers employed in Category A positions and introduces a mandatory requirement for annual influenza vaccination of workers employed in Category A High Risk positions. Annual influenza vaccination is highly recommended for all health care workers and staff employed in NSW Health facilities.
Transmission of vaccine preventable diseases (VPDs) and tuberculosis (TB) in healthcare settings has the potential to cause serious illness and avoidable deaths in workers, patients and other users of NSW Health agencies as well as others in the community. Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, risks must be eliminated or minimised through controls. NSW Health therefore has a duty of care and a responsibility under work health and safety legislation to control and minimise risks.
Vaccines work by triggering the immune system to fight certain infections. If a vaccinated person comes into contact with these infections, their immune system is able to respond more effectively, preventing the disease developing or greatly reducing its severity.
Vaccines used in Australia are safe and must pass strict safety testing before being approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). In addition, the TGA monitors the safety of vaccines once they are in use. More information about vaccine safety is available from the
Australian Government Department of Health.
While there is a risk of adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) with any vaccine, most are mild and resolve quickly. The most common side effect is pain, swelling or redness at the injection site. Serious side effects are extremely rare. If you are concerned about any side effects after vaccination you should contact your local doctor who should also make a report to the local public health unit. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that occurs very rarely after vaccination, however it is readily managed by trained nurses or doctors.
Workers employed in Category A and Category A High Risk positions must provide the documentation evidence as specified in
Appendix Checklist: Evidence required from Category A Applicants.
Most people with medical conditions can be safely vaccinated. You should discuss your medical condition with the assessor in your local health district (LHD) who will provide advice on whether you have a medical contraindication to vaccination.
The overwhelming evidence is that immunisation and the provision of population-wide vaccination programs remain one of the most effective public health measures to protect the community from preventable diseases. While no pharmacologic agent, including vaccines, is 100% effective, vaccination offers the best protection for individuals and for those they come into contact with.
The Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) was previously known as the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR) and was expanded in October 2016 to record vaccinations given to individuals at all stages of life. There is no historical adult vaccination data held on the AIR so vaccination histories are unlikely to be complete at this stage. This will change over time as adult vaccinations are routinely reported to the AIR by immunisation providers. In addition to vaccination records, there are other requirements to demonstrate your compliance that are not available on the AIR, including serology results for hepatitis B protection and the TB checklist.
Vaccine preventable diseases can cause serious illnesses, and so NSW Health staff have a responsibility to do everything they can to minimise the risk of disease spreading to their patients. Workers with a medical contraindication to vaccination will not be terminated on the basis of their medical contraindication but will be risk managed as specified in
Attachment 2 Risk Management Framework (RMF) under CE Discretion.
In the absence of a medical contraindication to vaccination, other alternatives will be explored to minimise the risk of transmission, including re-deployment to low risk areas. Where these alternatives have been exhausted and the risk of transmission cannot be acceptably managed, the NSW Health agency reserves the right to terminate workers employed in any existing Category A and Category A High Risk positions who refuse to comply with the policy’s assessment, screening and vaccination requirements.
Yes. Students who have been assessed as compliant for the purposes of attending clinical placements will be required to undergo assessment and screening in accordance with the policy prior to employment in a NSW Health facility. This information will then be recorded in a state-wide database known as VaxLink and will be available to all LHDs in NSW Health. If you move between facilities or LHDs you won't need to provide the same documents again.
No. Workers who have been previously assessed as compliant under the previous policy and apply for a new position in the LHD do not need to be reassessed, including for varicella. If the worker is transferring to a Category A High Risk position, they must be vaccinated against influenza annually (refer to Section 4 Annual Influenza Vaccination Program).
Yes. All agencies that provide workers to NSW Health facilities are obliged to comply with NSW Health policies including the requirements contained in the Occupational assessment, screening and vaccination against specified infectious diseases policy directive. Agencies must ensure that they only provide compliant workers to LHDs. Agency workers must ensure that they have evidence of their compliance available when presenting for shifts to assist with local compliance monitoring processes.
Yes. This is to ensure that any issues with compliance are identified early in the students candidature as those who are non-compliant will not be able to attend their placement which may impact on their course completion. The TB assessment tool should also be submitted in the first year of study.
No. The inclusion of a batch number is desirable where available but is not a requirement for the evidence to be accepted.
The current list of Category A High Risk clinical areas were identified by an expert group as the highest priority areas to introduce the annual influenza vaccination program. This program will continue to be monitored and additional areas may be added in the future.
A state wide database known as VaxLink is available to enable facilities to monitor, record and report on compliance with the requirements of the Occupational Assessment, Screening and Vaccination Against Specified Infectious Diseases policy directive. All compliance evidence should be recorded in the workers record in VaxLink.
Yes. If the nature of their work involves patients in the identified categories (refer to Attachment 1 Risk Categorisation Guidelines), the policy requirements apply. For example, this would include workers that provide post-natal home visits or workers in an antenatal/postnatal community clinic or outpatient oncology service.
Workers that are required to work in a variety of areas or change locations on a rotating basis may be required to work in Category A High Risk clinical areas and will therefore be categorised as Category A High Risk and required to have a seasonal influenza vaccination each year. Due to the variability of staff management systems used within each LHD, the process for managing these workers will need to be developed at the local level with consideration to LHD specific resources and processes.
No. The category A high risk requirement be vaccinated against Influenza (or wear a mask for the influenza season) apply to workers posted to the specified units (including community services) and to workers who predominately work in those units.
The requirement to be vaccinated against influenza (or wear a mask for the duration of the influenza season) applies if the worker is posted to or predominately works in a Category A high risk unit/s.
Yes. Annual influenza vaccine is strongly recommended for all students and is a requirement for students attending placement in a Category A High Risk area. Students attending placements in Category A High Risk positions must receive the current southern hemisphere influenza vaccine.
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As part of the response to COVID-19 the Prime Minister announced on 18 March 2020 that anyone attending an aged care facility from 1 May 2020 must be vaccinated against influenza, NSW subsequently made a
Public Health (COVID-19 Residential Aged Care Facility) Order 2020. In order to ensure that NSW Health facilities are complying with these requirements the provisions have been included in the amended policy directive.
Workers who are unable to be vaccinated for influenza due to a medical contraindication as per the online Australian Immunisation Handbook must provide evidence of this from their medical practitioner. These workers can then either wear a surgical/procedural mask while providing care or be re-deployed to another area.
The requirements relating to residential aged care facility workers are detailed in legislation (Public Health (COVID-19 Residential Aged Care Facility) Order 2020). Workers employed in a NSW Health residential aged care facility, or those who routinely work in such facilities, who refuse to be vaccinated must not work in the facility while the legal requirement is in force (if the vaccine is available to them). These requirements have been included in the updated Occupational Assessment, Screening and Vaccination Against Specified Infectious Diseases policy directive to ensure consistency.
The requirements relating to residential aged care facility workers are detailed in legislation (Public Health (COVID-19 Residential Aged Care Facility) Order 2020) and there are no allowances for workers who refuse vaccination, if the vaccine is available to them. These requirements have been included in the updated Occupational Assessment, Screening and Vaccination Against Specified Infectious Diseases policy directive to ensure consistency.
In an emergency situation, such as an ambulance call out, or where officers from Fire and Rescue NSW, or NSW Police Force are attending a RACF in an emergency, or where tradespeople are required to attend to urgent repairs, it is considered reasonable for the officers or tradesperson to attend even if they have not been screened or cannot show they have a flu vaccination. If possible, the officers/tradespeople should limit contact with residents and staff. If such personnel are attending the RACF in a non-emergency or non-urgent situations (such as planned attendances), they must have been vaccinated against influenza, if the vaccine is available to them.
Once the legislative requirement relating to residential aged care facilities that requires workers to have had an influenza vaccine are no longer in place then workers in these facilities should be managed in accordance with the policy directive requirements for Category A High Risk areas. This is, workers who are unable or refuse to be vaccinated can wear a mask or be re-deployed to a lower risk area.
No. The vaccination declaration must be signed by an appropriately trained assessor. This is a health professional that has training on the interpretation of immunological test results, vaccination schedules, TB assessment and/or TB screening. (See Key definitions in the PD for further information).
A laboratory report indicating a negative IGRA result can be signed off as compliant by an authorised immunisation assessor. If the result is positive the worker will need to be referred to a TB Service (Chest Clinic) for a chest x-ray and clinical review.
All new recruits and students who have a positive TST or IGRA need to be referred for a chest x-ray and clinical review at a TB Service (Chest Clinic). This review is required to assess an individual’s risk of progressing from TB infection to disease, to provide education on disease progression, and consider the use of preventive therapy for each individual. Temporary TB compliance will only be granted once active TB disease is ruled out (by a chest X-ray reporting no features suspicious for TB) and an appointment has been made at a TB Service/Chest Clinic. Full TB compliance will be granted once the TB clinical review has been attended.
All new recruits and students are required to meet the cost of initial TB screening (TST or IGRA test). A positive TST or IGRA indicates that follow up is required for active or latent TB, and as per the
Principles for the Management of Tuberculosis in NSW (PD2014_050), all investigations for cases, or suspected cases, of TB (active or latent) carried out through admitted patient and non-admitted patient services (including ambulatory care services) in NSW public hospitals and health facilities must be provided free of charge to the patient. This includes chest x-ray following a positive TST or IGRA conducted under the
Occupational Assessment, Screening and Vaccination Policy Directive (PD2020_017).
Health services are required to make vaccinations available to all workers, including those on a rotating roster. Your staff health unit should provide information for all employees about arrangements to access influenza vaccine.
If you are a worker with specialist clinical skills (i.e. midwife, surgeon, anaesthetist), you will need to discuss your medical contraindication with your doctor as not all medical conditions are a medical contraindication to vaccination and vaccines may be administered under specialist supervision in some circumstances. You may also seek advice from the
National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance Specialist Immunisation Service (NSWISS) regarding your medical condition as you may be able to be vaccinated under their clinical supervision. If you are a worker employed in a Category A High Risk position and cannot be vaccinated, you will be required to wear a mask or be redeployed to a low risk clinical area/care for low risk clients during the influenza season (1 June to 30 September annually).
Infected health care workers can pass the virus on to their patients before they even know they are sick. The most effective way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated and adopting additional preventative measures, such as proper hand hygiene and proper sneezing and coughing etiquette (more information is available). Immunisation helps health professionals reduce their risk of contracting influenza and spreading it to their patients. It also reduces the risk of you catching influenza at work and taking it home to your family.
While we know that influenza vaccines do not provide complete protection against influenza (vaccine effectiveness ranges from 30-70% depending on the match with circulating strains and the immune response of the recipient), they remain the best way to prevent influenza and are an important control measure in conjunction with regular hand cleaning and respiratory hygiene. In addition, there is
evidence that vaccination also reduces the severity of illness among people who are vaccinated but still get sick. Although one of the vaccine strains in the 2017 vaccine did not protect as well for the circulating A virus, the three other vaccine strains provided good protection against influenza viruses for immunised staff.
No. It is impossible for the influenza vaccine (the flu shot) to cause ‘the flu’. The vaccines used in Australia contain only part of the influenza virus and cannot cause infection. Common reactions to the flu shot may include soreness, redness and swelling where the vaccine was given. Occasionally other symptoms can include fever, headache and aching muscles that may last one to two days.
Wearing a mask, in conjunction with hand and respiratory hygiene, reduces the risk of influenza transmission. However, wearing a mask is still secondary to vaccination in terms of preventing the transmission of influenza.
During a season with pronounced vaccine mismatch, health care workers who have been vaccinated may voluntarily wear a mask to further reduce the risk of transmission. However, this not a requirement of this policy as there is no strong evidence to support universal wearing of masks as a preventive measure in the presence of pronounced vaccine mismatch and in the absence of an outbreak. In addition, influenza seasons with pronounced vaccine mismatch are, fortunately, uncommon.
To protect patients from influenza transmission, both vaccinated and unvaccinated staff members should consistently practice hand and respiratory hygiene and stay at home if they are experiencing influenza-like illness until symptom resolution.
Influenza vaccine will be available through clinics in your workplace from April and staff in Category A High Risk positions should be vaccinated by 1 June annually.
Staff working in Category A High Risk positions who don’t receive the influenza shot by 1 June annually will be required to wear a surgical/procedural mask while providing patient care in high risk clinical areas to protect both yourself and those who work with you or will be deployed to a non-high risk clinical area during influenza season.
The Chief Executive of the local health district will be reporting annually to NSW Health on compliance with the policy directive.
You should ensure that your doctor or authorised nurse immuniser or authorised pharmacist vaccinator provides you with evidence of influenza vaccination so that a copy can be provided to your staff health clinic.
Yes. Vaccination remains is the best protection pregnant women and their newborn babies have against influenza. Influenza infection during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery and severe disease in the mother. Vaccination during pregnancy also reduces the risk of the baby becoming ill with influenza in the early months of life. Pregnant women can have the vaccine at any stage of pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
Yes. Staff health programs can order this vaccine via the online ordering system. Facilities will need to ensure that it is clearly labelled to distinguish it from the quadrivalent influenza vaccine.