Hotel quarantine workers who have not had their second COVID-19 vaccine will be allowed to continue working on WA’s “frontline”, despite a ban on unvaccinated workers from Monday.
The WA Health Department said workers who have had the first of two shots could continue working in hotel quarantine, even though a guard at the Pan Pacific hotel, who had received his first jab, contracted the virus recently and passed it on to his two housemates.
Hotel quarantine workers, including security officers, cleaners, medical staff, ADF personnel and WA Police, must be vaccinated against COVID-19 from May 10 under state government rules.
In mid-April the government said it made the decision to “enable enough time for quarantine workers to get fully vaccinated,” given staff were offered the Pfizer vaccine which requires two doses at least 21 days apart.
The second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is usually given at least three weeks after the first.(ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)
But in a statement to the ABC on Thursday, WA Health said workers who had received a single dose could continue working after the deadline.
“Only those workers who have had at least one dose will be permitted to work directly with the quarantined hotel guests,” a WA Health spokesperson said in a statement.
“We will continue to work with this group and employers to build our frontline protection.”
The department said 92 per cent of healthcare staff, 84 per cent of hotel workers and 68 per cent of security staff had already had their first vaccine dose, but did not reveal the number of staff who were fully vaccinated.
“WA Health is continuing to work with the relevant companies who employ these staff to ensure everyone willing to be vaccinated can be accommodated in the next few days,” a department spokesperson said.
It said a smaller workforce would be required because the number of hotels was being reduced and it would therefore look to the companies to redistribute their workforce across the active locations.
One-dose decision ‘misleading’: AMA
WA President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Andrew Miller, said it was “misleading” and “political spin” for the state government to say it required mandatory vaccination when workers might have had only one dose.
“We know [one dose] does not give you proper immunity – otherwise, why would you have to have two doses?” Dr Miller said.
He said there was “certainly some protection a couple of weeks after the first dose”.
“But you cannot rely on being just within a week or so [of] the first dose that it will have any effect at all,” he said.
Dr Miller said due to a lack of planning and attention to workplace safety, the system was probably too short on workers to insist they were all fully vaccinated.
“It’s difficult to say what they should do on Monday because they can’t simply walk away with nobody to guard the facilities,” he said.
“It’s just incredibly disappointing.”
Security guards not easily replaced
Health Minister Roger Cook said existing security guards could not be replaced easily.
“All the staff that work in our hotel quarantine are trained in infection protection control, PPE use, and things of that nature, so you simply can’t replace them that easily,” he said at Wednesday’s press conference.
“We are working with the hotels this week to make sure that we can transition to next week smoothly.
“We won’t simply allow the system to roll into Monday unprepared.
“We’ve been undertaking that work this week and then we will do it over the weekend to make sure things stay operating smoothly.”