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AFLW player in vaccine mandate challenge

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AFLW player Deni Varnhagen is challenging South Australia's COVID-19 emergency declaration. Photo: AAP
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AFLW player Deni Varnhagen has been forced to work as a labourer after being kept off field for refusing a COVID-19 vaccination, a court has been told.

The Adelaide Crows midfielder, a registered nurse, told South Australia’s Supreme Court on Wednesday her healthcare shifts also dried up after she failed to meet the state’s vaccination mandate.

The 29-year-old is one of a group challenging a decision made in March to extend the COVID emergency declaration in SA.

Her barrister Simon Owen SC said if the extension was found to be invalid, other decisions to maintain vaccine requirements for public sector employees would also be invalid.

“This case is not a case about the wisdom of the policy about mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers, it’s a case about power,” Mr Owen said.

In addition to her professional football career, Ms Varnhagen has worked as a casual registered nurse for seven years, but claims she was left without shifts after the introduction of the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.

The decision to impose the mandate for state health workers and other public sector employers was made under the SA Emergency Management Act.

Ms Varnhagen said she had received no nursing shifts since November 2021 after refusing vaccination despite receiving text messages asking for all eligible nursing staff to help fill shortages.

The Crows also shifted Ms Varnhagen to the inactive list after she refused to be vaccinated and she has since been supporting herself by working as a casual labourer “in order to survive”.

Ms Varnhagen has been joined in the matter by childcare worker Kylie Dudson, two police officers and another nurse, Courtney Millington. Ms Dudson and the officers are not proceeding with the matter.

Ms Millington, a registered nurse with 17 years of experience, claims she received her first dose of a Pfizer vaccine “under much duress” over concerns she may experience complications owing to a pre-existing medical condition.

After receiving her first dose, the nurse said she experienced complications and self-administered blood thinning medications required to treat deep vein thrombosis.

Though she booked her second appointment for another dose, she did not go through with it over concerns for her health and sought consultation with “a number of doctors”.

An issue in the case is whether the severity of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 justified imposing a vaccine mandate for health workers and other public service workers.

The matter has proven contentious as Police Commissioner Grant Stevens and Chief Health Officer Nicola Spurrier are expected to give evidence.

Speaking to reporters before court, Ms Varnhagen and her solicitor, Loretta Polson, said it was now unclear whether Mr Stevens would appear as he had “a virus”.

“I invite Mr Stevens to take a Panadol and come to court to tell the people of South Australia what information he was given and what information he relied upon when imposing mandates that had the effect of throwing tens of thousands of South Australians out of their jobs,” Ms Polson said.

The hearing is scheduled for three days.

– AAP