Doctors call for all health workers, including those in community pharmacies, to be mandatorily vaccinated against COVID-19
On Tuesday the Australian Medical Association called on National Cabinet to make it mandatory for all healthcare workers and all staff at hospitals, healthcare centres, and pharmacies are vaccinated against COVID.
The call followed Sunday’s announcement by NSW’s Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, that healthcare workers should receive their first dose by September 30, and then be fully vaccinated by November 30.
This included public and private healthcare workers.
“The public and private health systems have a responsibility to implement every possible measure to provide a safe work environment for their staff and most importantly, safe circumstances for their patients,” Mr Hazzard said in a statement.
Those who fail to present proof of vaccination to their employers will be “excluded from the workplace,” according to the public health order, though exemptions can be made for those with medical contraindications.
On Tuesday AMA President, Dr Omar Khorshid, told reporters in Western Australia that “this may seem like a drastic step, but it’s a necessary step to ensure the hospitals remain safe for the patients and for staff”.
“You should not be worried about contracting a potentially deadly virus when you enter a healthcare facility,” he said.
“And we have an opportunity to make sure our healthcare sector is properly protected against COVID before we expose people to much risk in those settings.
“It is important for GPs and other small businesses to have the backing of Government when it comes to mandating vaccinations.
“It’s actually pretty difficult, legally, with our privacy laws, with our employment laws to mandate vaccination.
“But at the moment, as an employer in Australia, the advice is that each employer has to go and get their own legal advice, and that makes it really difficult for employers to do the right thing.
“But our states and territories still have the power to put out a public health order, as has happened already in the NSW. We’re calling today for every state and territory to do exactly that.”
He said that a figure of under 15% of nurses in the hospital sector are not currently vaccinated, and that the AMA suspects that when all hospital staff are included, this number will be higher.
“We need to set the expectation right now that our employers, that our system, that our community expects that healthcare workers are vaccinated against COVID,” Dr Khorshid said.
He highlighted small businesses in particular, “because we’ve seen COVID being spread in GP practises, in pharmacies, already in NSW, and we need to make sure that all the staff working in those facilities are protected”.
“But of course, this advice should go broader to all employers. They should have the protection of the Government in order to keep their workplaces safe for every employee. And right now, that’s actually very difficult for employers in Australia.”
When asked whether such a mandate would cause health workers to leave their employment, Dr Khorshid said that there was potential that the sector could lose a “small number of health staff from hospitals that are already very short in all staff”.
“But at the end of the day, we still have to protect people and we cannot have a workplace that’s safe in a COVID environment, or if COVID is in our community if every single worker in our healthcare facilities aren’t vaccinated.
“It’s just a necessary practical step, even though it’s one that will be quite uncomfortable for many.”
Late last week the Pharmacy Guild’s NSW branch confirmed that it opposes any moves to push for workers to be vaccinated by a certain date.
NSW branch president David Heffernan said south-west and western Sydney pharmacies are already under pressure and adding further burdens on them is “not fair”.
Some pharmacy sector workers are still on waiting lists to be vaccinated with Pfizer’s Comirnaty, he said.