They’re arguably the fastest declining segment of Australia’s population: the unvaccinated.
By the federal government’s measure of Australians aged 16 and up, 90 per cent have had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 82 per cent have had both.
In Victoria and NSW, which both had major outbreaks and long lockdowns, coverage sits about 93 per cent first dose for people aged 12 and up.
It’s impressive but still leaves a significant number of Australians vulnerable to the highly-infectious and lethal virus.
In Victoria alone, it amounts to some 397,900 people aged 12 and over, almost enough to fill the MCG four times.
Every Australian state and territory has issued vaccine mandates for health and other sectors to push for high coverage.
In Victoria, workers in 37 categories have to get vaccinated and while the majority have obeyed, opponents have become loud. Among them are some in trusted and well-regarded positions.
There are 132 staff and employers involved in challenging the mandate for essential workers in Victoria’s Supreme Court, arguing it’s a breach of their human rights.
Among them are teacher Belinda Cetnar and Simon Harding, who worked for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer CSL.
It’s understood about four per cent of CSL staff were hesitating about getting vaccinated before the mandates were introduced.
“We are committed to helping the very small group of employees who remain unvaccinated further build their knowledge and understanding about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines,” a CSL spokesman told AAP.
Comply or bye-bye
“We expect all employees to comply with the Victorian government mandate and company policies on this matter.”
As at late October, 97 per cent of Victorian health department workers had received at least one dose and 90 per cent both, and almost 100 of more than 17,700 Victorian police and protective service officers were stood down for refusing immunisation.
There were 1221 Victorian teachers and school staff yet to produce evidence they have been vaccinated and a further 166 indicated they had not made a booking, as of October 20.
In NSW, a parliamentary committee has been told about 4900 teachers are yet to advise officials of their vaccination status, while 170 Tasmanian health staff had not provided their details at the end of October and 38 permanent nurses had been stood aside for failing to comply.
The reasons people resist the vaccine vary but forcing them into it can make some solidify their stance, says Dr Denise Goodwin, who is BehaviourWorks Australia co-director of health programs at Monash University.
“People who might have been on the edge, it probably has sort of pushed them over because we often don’t like being told what to do as people,” she told AAP.
The hardened anti-vaxxers won’t be reached but other abstainers might be if there is a change in tact.
“So mandates can only go so far before actually you need to pivot, understand and then provide alternate opportunities for people to engage,” Dr Goodwin says.