Mandatory vaccines are controversial, but those who choose to stay unvaccinated will face a reduction in freedoms, Australian health authorities have warned.
This week it was announced New York City will require all municipal workers – including police officers, firefighters and teachers – to get vaccinated against coronavirus or take a weekly test, as America’s biggest city struggles under an uptick of cases.
In Germany, rising cases also prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff to warn that restrictions for unvaccinated people may be necessary if COVID-19 infection numbers continue to soar.
Australia has already implemented mandatory vaccines for aged-care staff and vaccination passports are being considered – once all eligible residents have been offered the vaccine.
The AFL is also plotting out its attendance plans: Fans might have to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, to get through the gates on game day.
Australian Medical Association national vice-president Chris Moy said it was likely Australia would hit a point where those who are unvaccinated are refused entry to restaurants, cafes, sporting events and crowded spaces.
“As time goes on, it’s going to change what you as a citizen can access,” Dr Moy said.
“It may be mandatory to have a vaccine to go into the cinema or restaurant.
“Nobody has made a clear policy, but I would think that would be reasonable.”
It looks increasingly likely that vaccination slows the rate of transmission, which was the strongest argument for limiting freedoms, he said.
“There will be an outcry from the anti-vaxx movement,” Dr Moy said.
“But those who get the vaccine made a decision about protecting themselves and their communities, and those who are anti-vaxx have not.”
He dangled Australia’s favourite pastime of going to the pub as a good incentive to boost vaccination numbers.
“They need to start signalling it and say to people: ‘You won’t be able to access certain things if you don’t get vaccinated. They may not let you through the door’,” he said.
Carrots – not sticks
With only about 16 per cent of Australians aged over 16 years so far fully vaccinated, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation issued a statement on Saturday advising all adults in Greater Sydney should “strongly consider getting vaccinated with any available vaccine” – including AstraZeneca.
University of Queensland professor of medicine Paul Griffin said it was better to approach vaccine uptake with a carrot, not a stick.
Rather than hounding people with the message they are going to miss out on life if they don’t get the shot, it was better to emphasise what it will open up.
“It’s about the communication. That’s one of the things we should hopefully improve,” Professor Griffin told The New Daily.
“The messaging about how good the vaccine is and what the risk-benefit is, needs to be hammered home.”
Some parts of our national policy show a lack of commitment to the efficacy of vaccines, Professor Griffin said – particularly past cases we’ve seen where fully vaccinated individuals have arrived in the country from overseas just to see dying relatives, but are still required to complete a 14-day stint in hotel quarantine before being allowed to say goodbye in person.
“I think we need to start demonstrating that we have faith in vaccines by allowing fully vaccinated to do more,” Professor Griffin said.
“That shows we have faith, and it will be a nice carrot for people who want to do things.”
Aged-care dummy not going well
Weeks ago the federal government set a target of mid-September for all aged-care workers to have their first dose of the vaccine.
Currently, just one in four of these front-line workers are fully protected.
Aged and Community Services Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow said the low vaccination rates in the workforce had “little to do with our workers”.
“The best way to improve vaccination rates is to make it as easy as possible for aged-care workers, including through on-site workplace vaccination,” Ms Sparrow said.
“Our workers were given priority as 1A and 1B at the beginning of the year, yet they are still waiting to be vaccinated. It’s not their fault.
“We simply have not seen the level of urgency, planning or clear communication needed from the federal government and this must be corrected urgently.”
Adjunct Professor Bill Bowtell, strategic health policy consultant from the University of New South Wales, said all essential service staff needed to be vaccinated – or tested regularly.
“Delta just changes the whole equation of this,” Professor Bowtell said.
“This is not where we were last year. It’s not about vaccination for measles. It’s just not.”
The majority of Australians won’t need convincing. They’ll get their shot as soon as supply allows, but there will be a portion of the community who are hesitant, he said.
“Those who are generally worried or concerned about the changing nature of the advice, they have a lack of knowledge or information about the science,” Professor Bowtell said.
“Their concerns need to be addressed. They won’t be addressed reading press releases from the Health Minister. It’ll be community leaders and people they trust.”
Then there will be a small group of people who will flat out refuse, no matter how much accurate or targeted information they receive.
With them, there was not much you could do, he said.
“If the fact that everyone in ICU on ventilators – or who has died in this outbreak – were unvaccinated does not motivate people to get vaccinated, it’s hard to understand what will,” Professor Bowtell said.