Vaccine mandates to protect healthcare workers and community

Only half of Australia’s states and territories have explicitly mandated COVID-19 vaccines for all healthcare workers under the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s (AHPPC) recommendation.

While some jurisdictions have vaccine mandates that include all healthcare workers, others have not taken high-risk primary care settings into account.

To protect workers and the community at large, PSA supports AHPPC’s recommendation to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all health workers – including those in primary care such as community pharmacies.

Last week, the Northern Territory announced the country’s widest ranging vaccine mandate, which includes all workers in public-facing roles.

So far, the mandate appears to be paying off, with a 303% uptick in vaccine bookings in the first 24 hours.

Following Tasmania’s recently announced mandate, PSA Branch President David Peachey MPS said he is supportive of the move for all healthcare workers to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, or present a medical exemption, by 31 October.

‘As a profession founded on evidence-based research, what we do every day is backed by research and evidence,’ Mr Peachey told Australian Pharmacist.

‘There’s no two ways about it that vaccination is important in minimising the risk of disease effects from COVID.’

Despite Tasmania’s low case numbers, as frontline health professionals, Mr Peachey said it’s only a matter of time before pharmacists are exposed to COVID-19.

While he is aware that not everyone agrees with the mandate, Mr Peachey said vaccination is the easiest thing pharmacists can do to protect themselves.

‘I feel it is the best way to protect the health of the individual, and other staff members if they, for whatever reason, can’t be vaccinated,’ he said.

Vaccine mandate to protect WA

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan this morning announced a mandatory vaccination policy for a majority of occupations and workforces in the state, in two stages.

This does not change the deadline for primary and community health workers, who are required to receive a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by 1 November, followed by a second dose by 1 December.

Workers in group 1 – those industries determined to have high transmission risk, a vulnerability risk or are necessary or critical to the safety of the community – must receive a first dose by 1 December and be fully vaccinated by 31 December.

Those in group 2 – industries deemed critical to ongoing delivery of business and the function of the community – must have their first dose by 31 December 2021 and be fully vaccinated by 31 January 2022.

Welcoming the mandate for healthcare workers, PSA WA Branch President Keegan Wong MPS said it is imperative for Western Australians to have confidence that these settings, and those who work within them, are compliant with health advice. 

‘We cannot have a situation where vulnerable members of the community remain anxious about contracting this disease through clinical settings like pharmacies and hospitals, especially as we learn to live alongside it,’ Mr Wong said. ‘This move will protect our staff, patients, consumers and the community.’

Victoria first to issue vaccine mandate

Victoria’s vaccine mandate is already in effect. By 15 October, healthcare workers in settings such as community pharmacies, hospitals, and general practice, were required to receive a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with a second required within 2 months. 

As the state prepares to navigate its way out of its sixth lockdown on Thursday 21 October, PSA Victorian Branch President John Jackson FPS, applauded the move.

‘[It’s] a step in the right direction,’ he said. ‘It protects healthcare workers, patients [and] further reduces the risk of transmission through high-risk primary care settings.’

Melbourne-based community pharmacist Esa Chen MPS is supportive of Victoria’s vaccine mandate, which she says is a standard that already exists for healthcare workers.

‘In community pharmacy, we’re not mandated to have the influenza vaccine, but lots of people who work in hospitals do have to,’ she said. ‘There are certain immunisations that are expected, and I think it’s fair to add this one to the list.’

In terms of the time frame, Ms Chen said pharmacists had plenty of opportunities to get vaccinated before the mandate came into effect.

While no one in her network is opposed to vaccination, she has heard of some pharmacists who don’t want to be vaccinated.

‘[But] I think it’s just about supporting them in terms of where they can go to have a safe conversation, where they don’t feel attacked,’ Ms Chen said. ‘Or [ensuring] they feel heard and can get their hesitations addressed.’

The vaccine mandate does make Ms Chen feel safer, but she said it is just one piece of the puzzle.

‘We still have to make sure that we can reduce risk in other ways such as PPE, or [ensuring adequate] ventilation, which can be difficult in community pharmacy because you might not always own the building or the premises,’ she said. 

With school resuming and children under 12 remaining unvaccinated, Ms Chen said this is also a worry for pharmacists with families.

‘Because you can still get COVID-19 if you’re vaccinated, they’ll still have to isolate [at this stage], so it’s not like all our problems are solved,’ she said.

However, as Victoria moves to Phase B and C of its reopening plan, the duration of isolation will change. PSA’s Victorian State Manager Stefanie Johnston MPS said specific furloughing requirements for health care workers are imminent.

‘PSA is working with the Department of Health on updated furlough following exposure to a positive COVID-19 case information and will provide this to members as soon as possible,’ she said.

Canberra on track to be world’s most vaccinated city

While the ACT government plans to introduce a ‘phased approach’ to vaccine mandates for healthcare professionals, which won’t initially include pharmacists, Erin Cooper MPS, PSA’s 2021 Intern of the Year, isn’t too concerned.

‘The ACT is in a unique situation where we have such a high population that is currently vaccinated [against COVID-19], that a mandate doesn’t seem quite necessary,’ Ms Cooper told AP.

With more than 98% of people aged over 12 years receiving at least one dose, Canberra is set to become the most vaccinated city in the world come November.

‘I do think it’s important for all healthcare workers and everyone that’s working in a vulnerable environment to be vaccinated,’ Ms Cooper said. 

‘But because we’ve already covered the majority of the population, it would just seem like enforcing something they’ve already done.’

For all updates on jurisdictional vaccine mandates, visit the PSA microsite.

Pharmacists with vaccine hesitant staff can contact PSA’s Pharmacist to Pharmacist Advice Line