The AFL has apologised to Indigenous footballers and club staff after they were told they would need to get pneumococcal vaccinations ahead of their entry into Queensland.
The league has come in for criticism from the AFL Players Association over the move, as Queensland’s health department said the injections were not an official travel requirement.
The 10 Victorian teams have agreed to base themselves in Queensland for up to 10 weeks in order to keep the AFL season going and complete the 17-round home and away portion of the season as quickly as possible.
The ABC understands club doctors were informed that along with influenza vaccinations for all players, Indigenous players were requested by the Queensland Chief Medical Officer to also have a pneumococcal vaccination before travelling, due to a, “tightening of Queensland’s border controls”.
“The AFL acknowledges it could have obtained and shared more information from the Queensland Government health authorities regarding the vaccination, including the underlying health safety benefits and that it can improve its processes in providing information to support club doctors in ensuring cultural safety in provision of health to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” the league said in a statement.
“The AFL is committed to working closely with the AFLPA and the players, our clubs and our doctors to resolve the situation.”
The ABC understands that Indigenous players were requested to have a pneumococcal vaccination before travelling
Research shows that Indigenous people are more likely to contract pneumonia. The vaccine is recommended for Indigenous people over 50 years of age.
But some Indigenous players and their families are uncomfortable with the requirement to have the injection, saying it is an infringement on their human rights.
‘Never a requirement’
The family of one Indigenous player said they were concerned the AFL did not advocate for an exemption from the Queensland Government.
However, a spokesperson for Queensland Health said the vaccination was never a travel requirement.
“The decision for some players to have pneumococcal vaccinations was made by the relevant sporting code [the AFL],” the spokesperson said.
“People can apply for relevant exemptions directly with the sporting code.”
The CEO of the AFLPA, Paul Marsh, says he’s concerned about the issue.
“The fact that these vaccinations were not discussed with the AFLPA as part of the return-to-play protocols or otherwise, is a significant issue we have raised with the AFL,” Mr Marsh said.
“We are now working directly with players to ensure they understand their rights and options available to them regarding any requested vaccinations.”