Following a meeting of the National Cabinet, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that aged care workers and residents will not be required to receive a COVID vaccine in order to continue living or working in facilities.
Addressing the media with Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd, Mr Morrison said that while this initial rollout of the vaccine would not be mandatory for care workers, he did not rule out the possibility of making the vaccine compulsory in the future.
“At this point, they (the Australian Health Primary Protection Committee) are not recommending [mandatory vaccinations for aged care staff] be the case,” Mr Morrison said.
“I have no doubt if there were concerns about the wellbeing of vulnerable Australians, particularly elderly Australians, then they would make those recommendations.”
Professor Kidd said that they were expecting “a very high uptake amongst both (aged care) residents and staff in order to protect the residents from COVID-19”.
“At this point, they were not recommending mandatory vaccination,” he said.
However, in a poll HelloCare conducted on our Aged Care Worker Support Group, one in five aged care workers said they wouldn’t get a flu vaccine in order to continue working, saying that they refused to be “‘blackmailed’ into injecting ‘poison’.”
So it stands to reason that perhaps this hesitation would extend, if not increase, in a newer and more controversial vaccination.
Following the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the rollout will prioritise aged care and disability residents and staff, along with quarantine and border staff and frontline healthcare workers, beginning vaccinations in late February.
The release of the Federal Government’s ad campaign, due to begin today, will be a ‘crucial’ part of the rollout and the government’s assurance that the vaccine is both safe and effective.
With the hopes that all Australians will be able to receive their vaccination by October, the $24 million ad campaign will be across TV, radio, print, social and digital media.
“The campaign will keep Australians fully informed and up to date about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines as they become available, including when, how and where to get the jab,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told the ABC.
“The information in this campaign, based on expert and independent medical advice, will help answer the questions people may have.”
According to Professor Julie Leask, who specialises in the uptake of vaccines at the University of Sydney, this ad campaign will be crucial in forming the public’s opinion of the vaccination.
“We’re at a really pivotal time in terms of COVID-19 vaccination. This is a new program and people will have a lot of questions, and they’ll be making decisions about whether they’ll have the vaccine or not,” she told the ABC.
“A good campaign will have three major elements. It will raise awareness, it will motivate people and it will remind people.
“And it will also monitor and evaluate and get those feedback loops so governments know how they’re doing and know how they can improve on their messages and channels.”
As Australia prepares for the first round of vaccines to roll out in the public, some industries may choose to make getting the vaccine mandatory, despite the government not taking those measures itself.
Aged & Community Services Australia chief executive Patricia Sparrow told the ABC that it is vital that the sector do everything in its power to protect vulnerable care recipients.
“We know that if COVID-19 gets into an aged care facility, it does have a really terrible outcome,” Ms Sparrow said.
“We really need to make sure that we continue all that infection control, we have to do everything to protect those older people.
“If we do it for the flu, you would think it’s the right approach to also do that for COVID-19.”
However as some people prepare to receive the vaccine, others have decided to refuse it. This raises questions about workplaces making the vaccine mandatory for staff, and the legalities around that.
According to legal experts, this all comes down to workplace health and safety. Karl Rozenbergs, partner at Hall & Wilcox.told the ABC that high risk workplaces have a requirement to provide a safe working environment, and that employers had the responsibility to ensure that.
“This is fundamentally a health and safety issue,” Mr Rozenbergs said.
“A direction to get the vaccine is more likely to be lawful and reasonable for businesses that face higher risks of an outbreak.
“Examples include hospitals and aged care facilities, businesses that involve working with children who are too young to have been vaccinated themselves, and businesses that involve other forms of physical interaction.
“If you’re in aged care, you’re a nurse, the risks are higher and yes, the employer could make the direction,” Mr Rozenbergs said.
“But in an office, probably not.”
With the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine on our doorsteps, will you be stepping up and rolling up your sleeve? Let us know in the comments.