A leading group of doctors is calling for mandatory vaccinations for the entire healthcare workforce, including contractors, receptionists and cleaners, as details of a lockdown extension were announced on Tuesday.
NSW recorded 1164 new cases on Tuesday, Victoria recorded 76 and the ACT had 13, with all three regions still struggling to control the Delta variant.
ACT chief minister Andrew Barr announced that the territory will extend its lockdown for a further two weeks until 17 September, but there will be some easing of restrictions at 5pm on 2 September, with more people allowed at funerals and a doubling of the outside recreation time (extended to two hours each day).
The problem has led the Australian Medical Association (AMA) to call for a speedy plan to ensure public health orders across the country call for mandatory vaccinations right across the healthcare system, starting with hospitals.
The calls come as the number of COVID-19 infected frontline workers unable to work continues to grow, as well as increasing clusters being linked to hospitals.
AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid said mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers are needed to sustain the health system into the future as we learn to live with COVID-19.
“Australians must understand that we will be living with COVID-19 for a long time to come and that will inevitably involve a longer, heavier than normal reliance on our doctors, nurses, hospitals and allied health,” Dr Khorshid said.
“We need to bring these workers, and the environment they work in, out of crisis mode and the first step towards that is to protect them through vaccination. This is about healthcare worker safety and the safety of patients, and not about vaccines by force.
“(The) AMA proposes nationally consistent public health orders of state and territory governments to authorise mandatory vaccinations across the healthcare system for all staff as soon as is reasonably possible,” he said.
“We’ve said plans to reopen Australia will be a disaster unless our health sector is ready and that will mean having a fully protected medical workforce.
“There is widespread uncertainty as to whether other occupations and workplaces can also mandate vaccinations. The law needs clarity to give employers and employees certainty,” Dr Khorshid said.
“(The) AMA proposes nationally consistent public health orders be issued by state and territory governments to provide legal protection to any employer who can also reasonably establish worker safety would benefit from a workplace vaccine mandate. Longer term, statutory coverage may be required.
“SPC and Qantas have taken the lead mandating vaccines for their workforces, but we know it’s very complex and expensive for small employers to meet with the legalities required. National cabinet needs to coordinate state and territory action to give legal certainty.”
Dr Khorshid said mandating vaccines for healthcare workers was the next logical step after making vaccines mandatory for aged care workers.
The AMA also backed the NSW government’s adoption of public health orders mandating vaccines for healthcare workers in both public and private hospitals.
“With billions of doses administered worldwide, we now have extensive data on the vaccines in use in Australia. They are incredibly safe and very effective at preventing infection, severe illness and hospitalisation,” Dr Khorshid said.
“People have nothing to fear from vaccination and everything to fear from COVID-19.”
NSW health minister Brad Hazzard said that he did not believe it would be necessary for mandatory vaccinations across the entire healthcare workforce, but slammed those not getting vaccinated as “self-entitled and indulgent in the extreme”.
“If there are some who haven’t decided to respond to that [vaccines], that’s a matter for them, but I’m confident that … NSW health staff generally, doesn’t matter if you are the cleaners making sure the virus is being cleaned out of the hospitals or whether it’s nurses, doctors, or front outpatients-serving administrative staff, they’re all working their backsides off,” Mr Hazzard said.
“Not getting vaccinated is self-entitled and indulgent in the extreme in the middle of a pandemic. Go and get vaccinated, and be fair to the rest of the community.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian reiterated calls for older Australians to drop their hesitancy over the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“There is no reason why anybody over a certain age should not have got the vaccine,” Ms Berejiklian said. “I’ve had the AstraZeneca and I’m 50 years old.”
Ms Berejiklian’s call comes as a large British study has found that COVID-19 patients face a much higher risk of developing blood clots than those vaccinated with the AstraZeneca or Pfizer shots.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he was not seeing a lot of evidence for high levels of vaccine hesitancy in the community and said the current problems were caused by issues of supply.
“There is a lot written and a lot said about people being hesitant but that is not our experience,” Mr Andrews said. “I think people are very keen to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, and I am grateful to each and every one of them.
“As a state and as a nation, we can cope with a pandemic of the unvaccinated if that unvaccinated group is quite small. That is to say, we will cope with unvaccinated people becoming infected and becoming sick when we have reached the 70 per cent and most importantly the 80 per cent vaccination target.”
Mr Andrews also explained that he would make an announcement on new thresholds for some changes to the current lockdown on Wednesday, but that it would not involve any substantial changes as it attempted to reduce the state’s high case numbers.
Do you agree with the AMA’s call for all workers in the healthcare system to be vaccinated if they are to continue working? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?
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