Peak medical body backs mandatory jabs for all health sector workers
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Vaccinations would be mandatory for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and even hospital cooks and cleaners under a plan the nation’s peak medical body is putting to Australia’s leaders as they prepare to relax pandemic restrictions.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) says that to ensure the health system can cope with a rise in cases once restrictions ease, every state and territory must make vaccines mandatory for everyone working in the health sector.
“It is impossible to imagine safe workplaces, or even safe care for patients without everybody in healthcare settings being vaccinated,” AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said.
Vaccines should be mandatory for all healthcare workers, the AMA says.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
“If we open up without preparing the hospital sector in particular, but also the rest of the healthcare sector, what we’ll see is increased levels of furloughing of staff, we’ll see outbreaks in hospitals, which have already claimed a lot of lives in NSW. And there will just be a much bigger impact than there needs to be.”
To date, more than 19 million doses have been administered across the country and 34.4 per cent of eligible Australians aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated. The federal government has set a target of vaccinating 70 per cent of the eligible population before moving to the “transition” phase of the pandemic recovery plan, which would see fewer lockdowns and eased restrictions for the fully vaccinated.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday that the federal government would ensure the health system could cope with a rise in infections.
Dr Khorshid said the country’s leaders have to take the opportunity while most jurisdictions aren’t dealing with large numbers of COVID-19 cases to properly prepare the health system.
“Vaccination is one part of that – there’s lots of other parts that need to go into it, But making sure that all healthcare workers are vaccinated is a good start,” he said.
NSW is the first jurisdiction to mandate vaccinations for all healthcare staff, including for administration workers and cleaners. Workers in that state must have a first dose by September 30.
Hospital workers should be the first focus, including cleaners and cooks, Dr Khorshid said, but any worker in the healthcare sector should eventually be included in the mandate.
“We’re already seeing in NSW that healthcare settings such as pharmacies and GP practices have become transmission sites, and they really shouldn’t,” he said. “You should be able to go to one of those facilities knowing that all staff are protected.”
Mandatory vaccinations for high-risk populations is supported by a vast majority of voters. An exclusive survey by Resolve Political Monitor survey for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age found 82 per cent of people agreed or strongly agreed that “high-risk occupations, like aged care or quarantine, should require workers to be vaccinated”.
The federal government has mandated vaccines for aged care workers, and all staff must have at least one dose by September 17.
Private companies have also brought in their own vaccination requirements. Airlines Qantas and Virgin now require all staff to be immunised, while food manufacturer SPC was the first major Australian company to announce it would require its staff to get vaccinated.
But Dr Khorshid said nationally consistent public health orders, issued by each state and territory, would provide legal protection to any employer who could establish that workers’ safety would benefit from mandatory vaccination.
“We know it’s very complex and expensive for small employers to meet with legalities required,” he said.
“The national cabinet should be talking about how can we make it easier for businesses to do the right thing in order to protect their customers and their workers.”
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