Introduction by Croakey: An Australian Institute survey published today found that more than three-quarters of Australians (77 percent) agree with making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for workers in contact with at risk demographics, such as aged care workers.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week that National Cabinet had “indicated an in-principle disposition” to mandating aged care and disability workforce COVID vaccinations, and has tasked the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) to provide advice as soon as possible.
However, vaccination expert Professor Julie Leask, visiting fellow at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, University of Sydney, has warned by Twitter that authorities should make sure they have taken other key steps before they move to mandates.
In a mini Twitter thread, published below, Leask cited earlier work that warned mandatory vaccination can worsen inequities in access to resources, because penalties for not complying can disproportionately affect disadvantaged groups.
“What’s more,” she and colleagues wrote in 2019 in response to proposals to mandate the measles vaccination, “the evidence suggests that there is no simple linear relationship between the forcefulness of a policy and its impact on the rate of vaccination”.
“It is crucial that policies don’t inadvertently entrench inequity or fuel anti-vaccine activism,” they warned then.
Dr Holly Seale, a Social Scientist at the School of Population Health at UNSW Sydney and the Deputy Chair for the Collaboration on Social Science and Immunisation, has also written that mandatory policies may be the only way forward in ensuring high coverage of critical frontline care staff.
But Seale also says we “need to exhaust other options first”, including whether there are physical/logistical barriers in the way, if incentives might work, and whether we understand and have sought to address vaccine hesitancy.
Dr Katie Attwell, a senior lecturer in the school of social sciences at the University of Western Australia and a member of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation COVID-19 Working Group and a specialist advisor to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, is also warning that the Federal Government “has to do its job better before mandating vaccinations”.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald this week, she said vaccine mandates for those working with vulnerable people are not new.
But she said it is a “disastrous prospect” right now for aged care, because “the cornerstone of a legitimate vaccine mandate is that you don’t mandate until you’ve exhausted other options”.
Julie Leask writes:
You can also listen to Leask and others on ABC Radio’s This Working Life: COVID-19 vaccinations at work: rights, responsibilities and relationships
See Croakey’s archive of stories about vaccination.
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